This was a global event for the 52 RAD athletes who converged in the Big Apple. A couple of us came from Canada, Wanda from Poland, and more traveled throughout the U.S.
There was a four-day schedule of group activities, with the main event activation at the PUMA flagship to celebrate the launch of the new Barbells for Boobs x PUMA Collection for Breast Cancer Awareness month. In its second year, the activation grew bigger and better.
As my plane prepared for landing in New York, I was giddy with excitement, pulling out my phone to document the cityscape at sunrise as it came into view. I had been working toward this for a year, and I smiled at the thought of all the possibilities waiting for me on the ground.
DAY 1: Choose Joy
It’s a beautiful moment when you enter a party, and all you can feel is love, support, and sunshine while reuniting with athletes you haven’t seen in a year and meeting new ones you recognize from online gatherings.
PUMA NYC was an incredible host for welcoming us into the city. Imagine pulling up to a store on Fifth Ave for a private party! There were cocktails and mocktails. A DJ to dish out the jams for everyone on the dance floor. A 360º photo booth to capture sassy and happy moments among friends. What a memorable setting to welcome Barbells for Boobs into the city.
As one of the RAD athletes featured in the 2022 Barbells For Boobs and x PUMA collection, it was surreal to see photos and videos of me serve as a backdrop for the festivities. I was on a screen two stories tall, which means a lot to this fun-size 5-feet and 2-inches gal. Being included in a group of four athletic women was inspiring and humbling. I wouldn’t have considered myself athletic pre-cancer, and I made enough progress within the past couple of years to be included in this group of women. It makes me want to shout from the rooftops that if I can do this, anyone can.
The party and all the events at PUMA were MC’d by Crossfit Games Host Kayla Banfield. Her energy, warmth, and talent for connecting with others made the weekend feel extra special. She had flown more than 24 hours from Australia to join us.
We danced, we laughed, and we cried, especially when Barbells for Boobs founder, Zionna Hansen, shared with us the team’s inspiration behind the message of the new PUMA collection.
We all understand when your soul is broken and you're in the bathroom crying rolled up in a ball and it's hard to find and choose joy, so as we go out, and as we go to our appointments, and as we look at our scars, and as we walk into every grocery store that has pink in every aisle, just find the joy in your misery. Find the joy in your pain, find the joy in where you've suffered in all of this. We’re all suffering in our own way, but I promise you there’s joy. It’s not going to be every day, but find that little meaning behind it and don’t let anyone break your soul.
Zionna Hanson, Founder & CEO
Walking has become a regular practice for many of us in the community, and our RAD Leaders organized walks to enjoy NYC together. RAD Leader Tiffany brought us to Central Park for a morning walk around the reservoir. She told us stories about the significance of this path she used while undergoing treatment. We passed by her old apartment, which was just across the street. Listening to her share what she felt at that time was moving. Giving a voice to your story is hard, especially when it involves difficult emotions, but there’s healing power in sharing. We help others and ourselves in more ways than we can imagine.
Day TWO: Movement is Medicine
Later that evening was “Fireside Chat with Z” featuring the RAD Integrative Care Team, a group of health professionals who are redefining the standard of care among women diagnosed with breast cancer. So much of what was discussed resonated with me and others in the audience.
“You get breast cancer, you get any cancer, and there’s no talk of actual rehabilitation… we’re not bringing our women back to 110 (percent), and I think that this is the first group of women that aren’t only acknowledging it, but are putting the pieces together.” — Zionna
“How many times have you ended up in PT and people said, ‘Well, you’re good enough.’ We don’t want to be ‘good enough.’ We want to be exceptional. That’s the gap that I want to close and help women understand that you can be better than you ever were. It just might take a strange process to get there.”
– Dr. Christine Asonglefac, Physical Therapist
“It’s not okay to just be okay. We want you guys to feel great. We want you to feel better than you ever felt in your entire life; that’s what I’m on a mission to do.” — Dr. Jennifer Greco, Chiropractor
“The mental health piece in all of this is arguably in my opinion the most important and it just does not get addressed.” Lori Todd, Professional Counselor
“I truly believe now, and like I said, before (breast cancer), I wouldn’t have noticed this as much, that movement is medicine and it’s a natural release of hormones to act like an antidepressant. It improves every aspect of life. If you just move your body, everything else falls into place. If I had a program that I could say all the things we talked about (to my patients). ‘Today, I’m going to refer you to this group. I know you’re in good hands’ … and I could communicate with that group, that would change my practice, that would be huge because I cannot address everything in 20 minutes.” – Dr. Molly Greenwade, Gynecologic Oncologist
Don’t miss the replay. It’s must-see TV for the breast cancer community and its supporters.
Day THREE: Stronger Than Ever
Show time! Grace, the event I had been looking forward to all year, had arrived.
After seeing RAD athletes complete Grace with barbells last year, I knew 2022 would be the year I graduated from 10-pound dumbbells. To me, lifting a barbell is the greatest expression of my inner and outer strength and the work it takes to move through a breast cancer diagnosis.
A wave of nervous excitement took over my body when I stepped up to the barbell. I took a moment to focus on my breathing as voices and sounds faded into the background. It was just me, the barbell, and a goal I had set for myself a year ago.
Honestly, believing in myself at this level is something I’ve never felt before this event. It was peace for this over-thinking brain of mine. I had trained for Grace. I knew I could do it. It was all a matter of how fast I could get it done.
It turns out I can do 30 power cleans and push presses with a 45-pound barbell in 3 minutes and 10 seconds— that’s 20 seconds faster than my best time at home. All that incredible energy, being in a room full of athletes impacted by breast cancer, inside PUMA with Kayla MCing everyone’s performance like a live competitive event— what a feeling!
After Grace, RAD Community Leader Jen Duran led us to Times Square. We passed by Radio City Music Hall, a place close to her heart as a former Rockette dancer. The rain was pouring. The gusting wind nearly blew away our umbrellas. Those of us wearing our new PUMA sneakers may have gotten them soaked, but nevertheless, we thrived. The highlight was forming a kickline outside Radio City. There’s nothing quite like dancing in the rain with RAD sisters.
Later in the afternoon, I returned to PUMA with Mom. She had flown in from California to spend time in the city with me. When she walked through the main doors, her jaw dropped as she saw the videos playing from the photoshoot. Mom has seen me at my weakest when I couldn’t walk around the block. She saw me at my greyest when my skin was dull and pale. My baldest was when all my hair fell out from chemo. My puffiest when I was bloated from steroids. She was there for all my surgeries, supporting me with her experiences as a registered nurse and mom. She and my husband, Dave, were co-caregivers when I needed the most help. It was fulfilling to share this moment of strength with her (and, of course, Dave via FaceTime).
Day FOUR: Never Alone
On our last day in the city together, the community was the theme for the day.
RAD Yoga instructor Janessa flew from Florida through looming hurricane conditions to lead Sunday’s class. She opened with a sharing circle, asking everyone to hold hands and compliment the neighbor to our left. It was heart-felt, and many of us got teary-eyed. Do you know how hard it is to accept a compliment?!
Yoga was a time to quiet down and listen to our bodies after all the excitement of Grace and sightseeing around town. I couldn’t help but feel so grateful to have my RAD Mom by my side and move together.
Some of the spouses in the group got together during yoga for the first-ever RAD Love meeting, another RAD resource created in response to the group’s needs. It happened to be men who were in attendance, but will also include more co-survivors in the community as the group evolves. I think it’s important to recognize that our co-survivors, aka caregivers, experience their difficulties as they see their loved ones struggle through ups and downs. They, too, need their own space to gather and support one another.
RAD Community Leader Deidre had planned a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, but with more rain in the forecast, she adapted the plan so we could stay warm and dry indoors. We gathered on the third floor of PUMA to share our wins from the weekend. Having this space to share was a beautiful way to close out the weekend as a group.
Barbells for Boobs is a feeling.
Seeing Zionna and her best friend, Cecy, together at this event spoke volumes about the culture that makes Barbells For Boobs unique: the support, the loyalty, and the safe space where you are free to come as you are. It was born from Z’s passion for supporting Cecy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and Cecy’s giving spirit when she gave back money from Z’s fundraiser to help more women in the breast cancer community. Twelve years later, the power of women supporting women continues through the RAD program.
RAD athletes rebuild their relationships with themselves, with their movement practice, and with their support systems, and become sisters through their shared experiences. It’s this ongoing cycle of empowerment and connectedness that fuels the spirit of Barbells for Boobs. Our lives are forever changed.
When I joined the RAD program in 2021, my goal was simple but a typical struggle for anyone recovering from treatment: I wanted to have the energy to do everything I wanted in a day. I chose fitness as the tool to get me where I wanted to go. Identifying as an athlete was only a daydream. Two years later, I’ve gone beyond what I thought was possible. Prioritizing movement truly is medicine, and my time in New York gave me my outlet.