Judy Pickett and Howard Mendonca
For Judy Pickett, Labor Day was another work day – part of her vocation to help find a cure for cancer.
Pickett ran in North Platte Monday in the annual Labor Day “Running to Cure Breast Cancer” 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer runs.
The runners started at the North Platte Recreation Center at 8:30 a.m.
Pickett, a three-time breast cancer survivor, has set all kinds of records in survivor races for nearly 20 years. She has garnered national news coverage, including an appearance on the Oprah show in 1999.
Pickett is a three-time winner of the national race for a cure. In 2004, she won the Suzy Koman award and a place in the National Distance Running Hall of Fame.
Runners World magazine named her a hero of running in 2006. That was 8 years ago, and she is still running.
Pickett is closing in on one of her personal goals -- to run in all 50 states. Nebraska is her 46th state. She has Rhode Island, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Alabama yet to go.
She ran the 5K Monday in North Platte in 22 minutes, winning the 50-59 age division.
Pickett is from Cameron Park, Calif. In 1986, she married her husband Tod and within a decade they had three boys. In November 1996, Pickett was teaching high school science as well as more than a dozen aerobics classes a week, according to a CBS News report. She was busy, happy, healthy and she was also under attack.
When Pickett found a lump on her armpit, she had it checked, which led to surgery and chemotherapy. When she regained her strength, she entered her first run for the cure. The experience left her feeling so good -- so alive -- that she decided to keep running, CBS News said. But in 1999, the cancer came back, leading to more surgery and therapy. It came back again in 2001. Pickett kept running through chemotherapy treatments. She carried the torch for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and she won a race in West Palm Beach without any hair on her head.
"It wasn't easy,” Pickett told CBS. “I was going through treatment but I think it inspired a lot of people."
Pickett and her husband Tod started the Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Fund for underprivileged and uninsured women in the Sacramento, Calif. Area. The fund has given out $72,000 in scholarships to high school seniors whose lives have been touched by cancer.
Howard Mendonca, who organizes the annual run in North Platte, said hosting Pickett made this Labor Day more special.
A record 305 runners ran through southwest North Platte this year.
Mendonca organized the first North Platte “Run for a Cure” five years ago after his mother Vera underwent treatment for breast cancer.
Mendonca wanted to do something to help.
“We watched her go through the pains and struggles of this disease,” he said on the “run for the cure” website. “As you can imagine, this was very hard on our entire family. My mom and her story are all the passion and drive I need to make this event a success.”
“There was nothing in western Nebraska at the time,” Mendonca told the Bulletin. “I wanted to raise awareness and funds – our main goal is not to have another race.”
Now 81, Vera has been cancer free for six years.
Each year, the event generates around $5,000 and the proceeds go to the Callahan Cancer Center in North Platte. This year should put the total raised above $25,000. The money comes from runners who pay a $25 entry fee and from other donors who step up to contribute.
Mendonca is especially grateful to Nebraskaland National Bank, which makes a healthy contribution each year.
“Without the bank, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” he said.
Pickett came to North Platte by herself, not expecting any special treatment, Mendonca said. She flew to Denver, rented a car and drove out. She visited the Spike and took in other events during the weekend.
“We just gave her an envelope of information and she made her way around,” he said. “That’s the way she wanted it. She’s pretty self-sufficient.”
After the race, as Mendonca headed back to his job as a fireman oiler at Bailey Yard, he thanked the volunteers, participants and sponsors.
“Without them, there wouldn’t be a run,” he said.
About 20 people volunteered to help with the run, he said.