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Rawls hikes across Washington, D.C.

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Keisha Rawls has trained since June to be ready for the 60-mile hike across Washington, D.C.

"Since June, I've been walking a five miles a day," she said. "On the weekend, you build on them, walking more miles on Saturday and Sunday. You have to prepare your feet, and you have to do cardiovascular workouts to prepare yourself."

This weekend, the local woman will take part in the annual fund-raising event, which will be the first held in Washington, D.C., and one of many held in 14 cities across the country this month. The weekend-long event, known as the Breast Cancer 3-Day, involves walking about 20 miles each day through the city in support of breast cancer research.

Rawls leaves for Washington today with the support of her family - her husband, Donald Rawls, and children, 9-year-old D.J., and 7-year-old Sarah Beth.

Rawls said her motivation to help support breast cancer awareness and research began when she was a teenager. As an 18-year-old, she helped her mother get through a battle with breast cancer.

"Her first bout with breast cancer was when she was 50, and her second bout was when she was 60," Rawls said. "I was 18 when she was first diagnosed. I knew my mom was sick, but I really didn't know to what extent. When she was diagnosed when she was 60, we were very well aware of what was going on."

She said her mother's second diagnosis with the disease was in 2005, and required her to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. "After that, she actually walked the Breast Cancer 3-day in 2005," she said of her mother. "Today, it's something I feel strongly about, in making sure we support research and help give families who are less fortunate, something like this, because it can be catastrophic."

Rawls, now 31, does monthly self-examinations and continues to have a yearly mammogram. For the last three years, she has been a traffic crew captain in the Atlanta Breast Cancer 3-Day.

Now, she wants to follow in her mother's footsteps. She will be joined in Washington by friends, Kim Gabrielle, of Flowery Branch, and Anne Hare, of Gainesville.

The recently created team of women calls itself, "Fighting Like A Girl." But only one of the members has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Forty-eight-year-old Hare, who has volunteered for the past seven years with Breast Cancer 3-Day events, is a year into remission now. She recalls being diagnosed on Sept. 11, 2007, after she found a lump on her breast during a self-examination that August. That fall, she had a mastectomy, and reconstruction.

She and her teammates will join thousands of others at the Breast Cancer 3-Day event benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure and National Philanthropic Trust.

"I walk beside those who won the fight, and I walk for those who lost and can't," Rawls said. "I walk because I can. There are many more women who have touched my life that I walk for. I walk so that if I get it, there is a cure, and [the day] when my children understand there is a proven prevention."

The Washington, D.C., Breast Cancer 3-Day will start on Friday morning, Oct. 3 and end with the closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 5. The effort begins months in advance when walkers start training and raising the $2,200 required fund-raising minimum.

"Fighting Like A Girl" was able to raise money through local efforts, having gotten the support of relatives and local businesses, such as Hurst Printing of McDonough, which made the T-shirts the team plans to wear on the trails.

Rawls, who is also the traffic crew captain for the Atlanta Breast Cancer 3-Day, plans to attend the Atlanta event as a volunteer, Oct. 24-26.