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Pink-clad Pinellas volunteers raise $3.9M for breast cancer research in 3-Day for the Cure

ST. PETERSBURG — In the midst of hundreds of pink-clad walkers completing their 60-mile journey Sunday afternoon, three pickups blasting country music pulled into a parking lot by The Pier.

Each truck flew a flag commemorating the 2011 Susan G. Komen Tampa Bay 3-Day for the Cure. A black truck, a 1984 Toyota, also flew the Confederate flag and on its sides, etched in pink chalk, was: "Breast Cancer Rednecks."

James Black, 53, a retired mechanic from Crystal River, hopped out of one of the trucks. Black's mother, Ella, died of breast cancer seven years ago.

"She was a good woman. Real outgoing, just like me," said Black, whose hair was dyed pink.

Every year since she died, Black and his family and friends have participated in the event, driving their caravan along the route, handing out waters and cheering on walkers, often with musical accompaniment.

Black's wife, Anita, was the only family member walking the 60 miles through the Tampa Bay area Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Walkers started in Clearwater and went through Belleair Bluffs, Largo, Indian Rocks Beach, Seminole, Madeira Beach and other Pinellas communities.

About 1,500 walkers crossed the finish line at Woodlawn Park before heading to Spa Beach Park for the closing ceremony.

The 3-Day for the Cure is one of several types of fundraising events run by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the charitable organization started in 1982 by the sister of its namesake.

Tampa Bay area's event raised $3.9 million this year, down from $4.5 million in 2010.

Anita Black had more trouble raising the $2,300 minimum needed per walker this year than before. Her 14-year-old grandson, Jon Viereck, held a sign along the route — "Redneck mama is $600 short of reaching goal" — and raised the money by Sunday.

There are a bevy of breast cancer research benefit events each year, but the Breast Cancer Rednecks said the close-knit nature of the walkers keeps them coming back to this one.

"They look for us every year," said Junior Black, 28, James' son. "They ask about what happened to this truck or that truck. … They've seen Jon grow up. He was 7 the first year we did this."

Over at Woodlawn Park, Kelly Murphy and the walking team "Saving 2nd Base" sat under a tree, sipping fruit-flavored beer and resting their legs.

Murphy's mother, Teresa, died 20 years ago. Murphy, 31, a Largo bartender, was 11 when her mother died. She spoke reverently of the woman who worked double shifts waiting tables at a Waffle House to provide for her two children before breast cancer cut her life short at just 37.

"As hard as she worked to fight the disease, the least I can do is walk 60 miles," she said.

Murphy and her teammates lauded their supporters, the people in the crowd who brought them water, coffee, bandages, whatever they needed.

That crowd will have at least one more member next year. The Breast Cancer Rednecks are adding another: James Black's daughter-in-law, Kelli, is pregnant. She's due Dec. 10, James' 54th birthday. It's a girl.

They're going to name her Ella, after James' mother.

Times staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay 3-Day

by the numbers

14 Number of 3-day walks nationwide in 2011.

1,500 Walkers in bay area event this year.

1,600 Walkers in last year's bay area event.

350 Volunteers for Tampa Bay area event this year.

215 Walkers in this year's bay area event who are breast cancer survivors.

178 Male walkers in this year's bay area event.

Pink-clad Pinellas volunteers raise $3.9M for breast cancer research in 3-Day for the Cure 10/30/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 7:23am]
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