Every journey starts with a single step. Joy and Dickie Blondheim took a big step toward beating breast cancer when they founded the Joy to Life (JTL) Foundation in Montgomery, Ala. in 2000. After surviving breast cancer, Joy was inspired to help others. Knowing that early detection is key to living through the disease, she and her husband decided to create a charitable foundation that would provide mammograms and other cancer screenings for under- and uninsured women in Alabama, and JTL became the first, and to date is the largest, private funder of the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
“We wanted to give back to our community,” Joy said, “and we became aware of the huge need for some very basic services.”
To get the money needed to provide its much-needed services, the foundation introduced its signature fundraiser in 2001, The Walk of Life, a USATF-certified 5k run/walk. Thanks to the Walk and other fundraising efforts, JTL has raised $6 million in its 15 years and provided 10,000 mammograms. In the first nine months of 2014 alone, JTL provided 1,201 mammograms, 234 ultrasounds, and 503 physician visits, leading to 74 cancers being diagnosed and moved into treatment status.
The Walk, which will take you (running or walking) through Montgomery’s historic downtown (and around Court Street Fountain with its cascading water dyed punch-pink in honor of the occasion), has grown into a can’t-miss active event in the state. And last year, it drew more than 6,000 participants. Many of them run or walk in honor of a sister, mother, daughter, wife, or friend who survived breast cancer or lost their battle with the disease.
The fact that the race raises money that stays in the state sets it apart from many other similar events and brings people back year after year. The 2015 Walk will take place on April 18, and it’s more than just a race. It’s a party in pink that has a serious purpose: saving lives.
“The Walk is in its 14th year, and it’s more important than ever,” Joy said. “As we now serve women in every county in Alabama, we must keep the funds coming in.”
The Walk of Life includes a Kids’ Dash and a post-race party with food, drinks, giveaways, music, and more and attracts plenty of experienced runners, but also those who’ve never signed up for a 5k. This year, a group of beginners is being trained by Fleet Feet Sports in Montgomery, with the Walk of Life as the goal race. LePret Williams, a RRCA-certified coach for the athletic goods store, explained why Fleet Feet chose to partner with the Walk.
“We always pick a race to use as the end of our 12-week 5k training programs, and we went with the Walk of Life because we believe in the good work the foundation is doing,” she said. “It’s so important, and it’s a local non-profit doing its work here at home.”
Williams shared two of her favorite local places to run while getting ready for a 5k. “I like Blount Cultural Park,” she said. The 77-acre oasis features paved roads that cut through a massive green, grassy field that was designed to resemble an English moor. A large lake adds to the serene scene here, and a few gentle rolling hills add a bit of challenge. The park is also home to The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the official state theatre, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
“The Cloverdale area is also a beautiful place to run or walk,” she said. Blanketed in ample shade thanks to an abundance of ancient trees, the relatively flat streets in this neighborhood are wide and wind through one of the city’s oldest areas. Beautiful old homes—ranging from mansions to quaint cottages—awe-inspiring churches and cool shops and restaurants make Cloverdale a popular running spot.
Ida Belle Young Park is another good option, with a paved loop trail amid its 24 acres, as is the RiverWalk downtown. Set along the banks of the Alabama River, this paved area is flat, but you can get some decent hill work by running up and down the entrance to Riverfront Park and up to the SplashPad. Pretend you’re a kid again and hop on in. When operating, its jumping jets of water will cool you off quick. And when you’re done with your training session, treat yourself to an icy adult beverage at SandBAR, an alfresco lounge on a bluff overlooking the river.
Whether you regularly run 5ks, or you’re looking for one to try for the first time, The Walk of Life is a great choice, due in large part to the event’s underlying purpose. With every step and stride, you’ll be furthering the foundation’s mission and helping JTL continue its crucial work—which will deliver a warm, fuzzy feeling that’s right up there with a runner’s high.
Learn more and register for the Walk of Life here.