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Three-day breast cancer walk brings families and survivors to St. Petersburg

Participants in the Susan G. Komen Tampa Bay 3-Day, a 60-mile walk to raise money for the fight against breast cancer, enter the closing ceremony area Sunday afternoon as friends and family cheer them on at Spa Beach in St. Petersburg.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Participants in the Susan G. Komen Tampa Bay 3-Day, a 60-mile walk to raise money for the fight against breast cancer, enter the closing ceremony area Sunday afternoon as friends and family cheer them on at Spa Beach in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — After she lost her mother to breast cancer three years ago, Candace Zlotnick decided she wanted to do something big and difficult.

That something became the Susan G. Komen Tampa Bay 3-Day, a 60-mile walk spread over three days that takes participants from Sand Key Park in Clearwater to South Straub Park in St. Petersburg.

The walk ended there Sunday, with more than 1,300 people — wearing pink sneakers, hair ribbons, tutus or T-shirts — passing the finish line to cheers from onlookers and family members.

The walk, which drew people from the Tampa Bay area and some from across the United States, raised $2.5 million, organizers announced at the closing ceremony.

As she and a friend stretched after finishing the walk, Zlotnick, 42, of Tampa pulled a small plastic bag filled with gray powder out of her fanny pack. She had walked 60 miles with a handful of her mother's ashes.

Zlotnick said she planned to drive to Madeira Beach to scatter them, in memory of the days her mother drove her to Clearwater Beach in a convertible.

"I could feel her spirit with me," she said, adding that whatever muscle pain she felt a few hours ago had vanished when she arrived in South Straub Park to a line of cheering people.

Displaying more confidence than the average 16-year-old boy, Brody Westfall crossed the finish line wearing a pink bra over his T-shirt. His father, Mark Westfall, wore a matching outfit.

Brody's mother died from breast cancer when he was 4 and she was 35. For two days during the walk, he carried a flag that read "Mother."

Mark Westfall, who's from Lakeland, said the walk was emotional for them. "We cried, we laughed. … You learn everyone's story along the way," he said.

They also received a fair amount of attention for their pink undergarments. "The kids thought it was hilarious," he said.

Eight black pirate hats lined with pink trim bobbed across the finish line atop the heads of eight friends from Sarasota. Their motto: "Make cancer walk the plank."

Years ago, they met and befriended each other in a spinning class at a Gold's Gym. When three of them were diagnosed with breast cancer, they began walking as a group to raise money. This year they raised $20,000; last year, $40,000.

Throughout the walk, they kept themselves entertained with songs and outpourings of support from friends in the form of ice cream and back massages.

"We're probably the most spoiled team out here," joked Lynne Renfroe.

Ingrid Moertl lives in Columbia, Mo., but flew to the Tampa Bay area for the walk to honor her mother and her niece, both of whom survived breast cancer.

Pinned to the straps of her pink lace bra, which she wore over a T-shirt, were buttons reading: "Viva las chicas," and "I'm taking the girls for a walk."

"I walk in their honor," she said. "I just got back from Iraq in the beginning of the year and I knew that I was retiring from the Army Reserves … so I knew that I wanted to do something more philanthropic than I've done in the past."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or 727-893-8779.

Three-day breast cancer walk brings families and survivors to St. Petersburg 10/28/12 [Last modified: Sunday, October 28, 2012 10:44pm]

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