By Cathy Cavender
It had been around a year since her diagnosis when Sue Weldon in 2005 attended an event called Yoga Unites for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. After a relaxing, restorative stretch, Sue and the other participants wandered the venue, checking out displays for fitness classes, organic foods and 100% natural cosmetics.
As someone who describes herself as the type of person who'd much rather pull weeds than use pesticides, Sue felt right at home. Her treatment regimen, besides a bilateral mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy, had included numerous complementary remedies. When she saw a young woman whose bald head clearly signaled that she was undergoing chemo, Sue reached out in sympathy. "I said, 'Don't worry, you're going to get through this,' and told her how much acupuncture and yoga helped with healing. And the woman said sadly, 'I could never afford that.'" Sue realized how lucky she had been, and began thinking about ways she could help other women with breast cancer get the same kinds of "extras" that helped her feel better not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
Two weeks later Sue returned to work (after a yearlong medical leave to focus on getting well) as a gymnastics coach at the AJS Pancott Gymnastics National Training Center near her home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Her students—girls ages 11 to 18—were full of questions about her illness. Two of them, sisters Missy and Macalla Curtis, then in their early teens, were particularly concerned because they had a grandmother and an aunt with the disease. Shortly after Sue returned, a second aunt was diagnosed. "They were anxious. I could see that they were starting to worry about their own odds too," says Sue. As she reassured the girls and encouraged them to eat healthy foods and to stay active, the idea of doing something more was on her mind.
"My wheels were definitely turning," says Sue. She eventually decided to create a nonprofit organization and put together a special gymnastics competition with a twofold purpose: to educate girls about breast cancer and to raise money to provide alternative therapies for women fighting the disease.
When she mentioned the idea to coaches and judges, they loved it. Sue asked training center owners Steve and Louise Pancott for their help. They quickly said they were in. "Are you in big?" Sue asked. "Because I'm thinking big!" Their answer: "We're in big!"