PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND – On Sunday, May 5th the Brown gymnastics team will participate in the 2013 Rhode Island PurpleStride walk to raise money and awareness for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The family-friendly, 1.5-mile walk will take place in Goddard Memorial Park in Warwick, Rhode Island, and this is the second year that the Bears have united to support the cause and honor the memory of those who have battled the disease.
The gymnasts are a small part of a much larger effort, however, as they will complete the walk as members of Walking for Wendy, one of PurpleStride's top fundraising teams. Founded in 2011, it was formed by Wendy Brody Keil, the mother of former Brown gymnast Sarah Keil Chernoff '03. Wendy passed away on September 27, 2011 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer, and the fight that she began three years ago continues today as her family and friends remain committed to increasing awareness and raising money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, an organization that provided her with hope, support and motivation.
"We have been so incredibly fortunate for the effort, enthusiasm and hard work all of our 'captains' and walkers have put into a cause that means so much to us," said Keil Chernoff. "It really has been unbelievable. I have been so impressed with the dedication of our family and friends and the impact we have made together. I also feel like I have learned even more about my mom and the great impact she made on so many people. It truly is amazing, and I can only hope that I impact this world the way she did."
Wendy Keil was athletic and philanthropic, participating in a number of 60-mile breast cancer walks before she was diagnosed with the disease, and she was often the top fundraiser in those events. She also worked for the Jewish National Fund, continuing her fundraising work with the organization up until the very last days of her life. Keil heroically conquered breast cancer in 2006, but four years later blood tests showed that the disease had reappeared in the form of Stage IV pancreatic cancer and had spread to her liver.
Not ones to be deterred by the grim prognosis, her family felt that they needed to find a walk to motivate her fight, as the mother of four wanted to make a difference in the short time that she had left. They connected with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and were inspired by its mission to "advance research, support patients and create hope." The Keils organized the Walking for Wendy team and participated alongside Wendy at the Manhattan PurpleStride event in April of 2011. The team was the largest entered in the walk with 130 supporters and also the top fundraiser, bringing in more than $72,000 dollars and proving that Wendy fought insurmountable odds with full force when the goal to help others was put in front of her.
The initial walk was just the beginning for the Keil family however, as Keil Chernoff started a Walking for Wendy team at the Cleveland PurpleStride event, family members started one in Southern Florida and a friend entered one in an event in Houston. Wendy had set her sights on walking at a PurpleStride event in New Jersey, but passed away a little over a month before the walk. Walking for Wendy turned out in full force, however, raising more than $100,000 at the event to bring its full year total to almost $200,000.
"I am not exaggerating when I tell you she was checking her fundraising progress for the event literally until her last days of life," said Keil Chernoff. "She knew that her involvement wasn't going to save her, but she wanted to do all she could to help those who would be diagnosed and hopefully save a lot of others from going through what she went through. After my mom passed away, we knew we had to continue her fight."
Her husband and four children chose to support PurpleStride walks around the country as a way of continuing Wendy's fight while also helping to increase awareness and raise money for an organization that has done so much for their family and others effected by pancreatic cancer. They sought to get as many people involved in Walking for Wendy teams as possible and they each fell into different roles based on their areas of expertise. All that they have accomplished has been done as a family, and they are consistently motivated by the memory of Wendy and the spirit with which she lived her life.
Towards the end of 2012, the family put together a video to document their first full year of PurpleStride walks. The video shows all of the walkers that participated on various Walking for Wendy teams, including the Brown Bears, and also recognizes the impressive amount of money that their efforts have raised for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The song in the background of the video was written by Franke Previte, the composer of the song played in the finale of Dirty Dancing. He was a friend of Patrick Swayze, who also passed away from pancreatic cancer, and met the Keil family through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. He was inspired by their story and wrote the song to commemorate Wendy and her fight. To watch the video, click here.
"It has been an honor for our team to help support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in memory of Wendy Keil, the mother of Brown Gymnastics alum Sarah Keil Chernoff," said head gymnastics coach Sara Carver-Milne. "Wendy was a huge supporter of Brown Gymnastics and continued to attended competitions and encourage the team just months before she lost her battle to pancreatic cancer. To represent Walking for Wendy means so much to our team, because of the close connection we have with Sarah and her mother. What Sarah and her family have done to continue her mother's fight is an inspiration to all of us."
More information about the Rhode Island PurpleStride walk where the Brown gymnastic team will represent Walking for Wendy can be found here. To learn more about the Pancreatic Cancer Action network, visit its website. To make a donation to Walking for Wendy and keep up with the Keil family's effort to continue Wendy's fight, visit their Facebook page.