Deb takes to the treadmill to support the Classic 

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Deb Whitfield… “The fact that I am here means I was lucky; but I also did the things that I was told to do by the professionals and just stayed positive.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

By Bina Brown

WALKING this year’s Mother’s Day Classic will be a first for Deb Whitfield, even if it is in the comfort of her own home.

The mother of four would usually be spending the often crisp May morning paddling with Dragons Abreast on Lake Burley Griffin, alongside thousands of runners and walkers participating in the annual fundraiser for breast cancer research.

With COVID-19 putting a temporary halt to group events such as the iconic Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic, the family-focused run and walk has transformed into the Mother’s Day Classic Virtual 2020, an on-line community of virtual participants.

The challenge for participants is to register to walk, skip or run four kilometres anytime, anywhere – in their living room, at the local park or their backyard – on or before May 10. 

Keen to maintain her fitness as the world went into self-isolation mode, Deb set herself a target to run or walk 250 kilometres in the lead up to the Mother’s Day event and maintain a connection to the event that is so close to her heart.

Fifteen years ago, at age 47, Deb was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Had it not been for an older sister being diagnosed six months earlier, she may never have gone for a check-up. 

She had no signs or symptoms of breast cancer, but she was pushed by her sister, who was relentless in asking if she had been for a scan. Her three daughters get regular checks.

“The fact that I am here means I was lucky; but I also did the things that I was told to do by the professionals and just stayed positive,” says Deb.

Part of that process was a commitment to exercise and staying fit, which research has shown is good for the body and the mind.

Deb also drew on the myriad support groups for breast cancer survivors, such as Breast Cancer Network Australia, Dragons Abreast and Bosom Buddies.

“I’m not usually a runner, but I do a lot of walking and I’m finding the time on the treadmill helps in so many ways. If I can help with finding out more about breast cancer and that helps other cancers then everybody wins,” she says.

Mother’s Day Classic Foundation chief executive Zara Lawless says supporter response to the virtual event had been extremely positive.

“We understand the current crisis has created significant challenges for the wider community and these unprecedented times call for innovative solutions,” she says. 

“We know that so many of our dedicated supporters – those impacted by breast cancer, new mums, participants who have run or walked at every Mother’s Day Classic event, still want a way to be connected with the cause and stay connected with each other on Mother’s Day.”

People who register join an online community offering fitness programs, fun photo competitions, wellness tips and tutorials, Pilates and yoga classes, sponsor prizes and giveaways and fun kids’ activities.

Local sponsor, the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, has initiated its own government challenge, with a trophy going to the department or agency with the most registered participants online.

“For over 22 years the Mother’s Day Classic has brought the community together to raise funds for vital breast cancer research and to celebrate and remember those touched by breast cancer,” says Zara. 

“This can still be achieved and nothing will stand in our way to walk all over breast cancer. This is a great opportunity for the community to show how they will make their Mother’s Day mean more in 2020.”

The Mother’s Day Classic Foundation (MDCF) is the single largest donor to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). Established in 1998 by the networking and advocacy body Women in Super, the MDCF has funded 70 research programs and more than 250 Australian scientists, all focused on improving the survival outcomes of those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Since 1994, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer has improved from 76 per cent to 91 per cent.

Register at mothersdayclassic.gov.au

Journalist Bina Brown is a volunteer on the Canberra MDC organising committee.

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