Cancer survivors, supporters to take on the Monster Mile.
Agility training with her dogs wasn’t just Joyce Connelly’s pastime. It helped get her through breast cancer.
Last year Connelly celebrated her second year as a survivor by walking a lap around the Monster Mile race track at Dover International Speedway, joined by two of her agility dogs and husband Tom.
The Monster Miles for a Cause charity walk by Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition drew more than 300 people and raised more than $14,000 last year.
Connelly will bring a small group of agility trainers to the walk Oct. 20.
All proceeds benefit programs that increase breast cancer awareness and promote the importance of early detection.
Proceeds will also be used to provide access to mammograms and provide support and resources to men and women in the community who are newly diagnosed or facing recurrence of breast cancer.
Connelly said Monster Miles for a Cause was convenient because it is only a mile walk, as opposed to a 5k walk or run, like in many fundraisers.
She said fellow survivors were tickled to see her Australian shepherds, Toby and Daisy, walking alongside her.
Since Connelly and her husband are Green Bay Packers fans, Toby hit the track rocking a Brett Farve jersey with a floral lei and cheesehead necklaces. Daisy was sporting a pink top with a miniature jockey strapped to her back.
“[Survivors] thought it was really neat the dogs were very friendly. They had costumes on and they thought it was nice the dogs were there for me,” she said.
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Down but not out
Connelly, 59, is a big animal lover. She works around pets as an office manager at Sassafras Veterinary Hospital in Smyrna.
She began entering her fur babies in agility competitions 10 years ago and competes in Delaware and surrounding states.
Agility competitions are on an obstacle course where the pets are tasked with performing tricks without their handler using a leash to assist them.
Some of the obstacles include dogs clearing hurdles and weaving in and out of poles in a row like a cone drill.
Connelly said there was a brief stint where she was forced to take a break after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
“I had surgery and was going through chemotherapy. I didn’t have the energy to compete with my dogs,” Connelly said.
Though dogs are the star athletes, it’s crucial that their handlers have enough energy to keep up during training and competition.
Handlers need to be able to run alongside their dogs on the course to guide them to the next obstacle, she said.
Five months into her chemo treatment, Connelly started training her dogs again. But she’d lost a step.
“I wasn’t back to the level I was used to competing at,” she said. “The dog might stop on a course, turn around and say, ‘Where are you?’ I couldn’t keep up.”
While striving to get back to original form, the Townsend woman said she received help and encouragement from the agility-competition community.
Some folks assisted with training her dogs when she was too weak to do it herself.
Ultimately, the love of the sport motivated her to push through physical discomfort to help her rebuild her strength and stamina. These days, Connelly said she feels as good as she did before she was diagnosed.
“The agility competition was a way for me to get through my breast cancer,” she said. “It was something to look forward to.”
Earlier this year, her dog Toby retired. But she is still going strong training Toby’s sister, Daisy.
Love from Olga’s Posse
Their most recent competition was in Frederica. The next is Oct. 13 in New Jersey. She’ll take her dogs to walk the Monster Mile a week later.
Connie Brown is also returning to the Monster Mile this year.
Brown, an employee of Kraft Heinz Company in Dover, said she’ll be walking with a group of women from her job in memory of their late co-worker, Olga Rosado. She died of breast cancer in 2015, a few days before Christmas.
“Olga was a happy-go-lucky person and everyone took to her,” said Brown, 59, of Smyrna.
Brown and her crew, named “Olga’s Posse,” have been walking the last couple of years to honor Rosado.
The Smyrna woman said the fundraiser is nice because the atmosphere is upbeat and positive.
“It’s just amazing to see all the ladies coming out and supporting one another,” the Smyrna woman said.
Right when Brown thought breast cancer hit close to home, she was recently scared again when her mom was diagnosed.
You owe yourself
Thankfully, Brown said, the cancer was detected quickly in her 83-year-old mom, and it’s been removed.
Her mom finished her fourth and final week of radiation treatment in September, and she’s doing fine now, Brown said.
The Smyrna woman said early detection is key; and women could potentially add more years to their life by getting checked out by a physician.
“I want to encourage all women to get a mammogram. You don’t know how important it is,” Brown said. “It only takes 10 minutes at the most. You owe it to yourself and to your family.”