She's in It for the Long Walk
September 5, 2013
Meet Good Neighbor Finalist Tina McDonough - RE/MAX Select, Renton, Wash. She's the heart and soul of the No. 1 fundraising team for breast cancer research in the United States.
Meet the 2013 Good Neighbor Award finalists
The Good Neighbor Awards recognize REALTORS® who are making an extraordinary impact through community service. We will profile one of our 10 finalists each day in our Daily News. Five of these finalists will be named winners and will receive $10,000 grants for their charities. They will also be welcomed into the Good Neighbor Society during NAR's 2013 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. The five honorable mentions each receive $2,500 for their cause.
Starting Sept. 17, we will give our readers the chance to vote for their favorites. On Oct. 1, we will announce the "Web Choice" top vote-getter, along with the five winners of the $10,000 grants. The Web Choice winner will receive an additional grant of $500, whether they are chosen as a Good Neighbor honorable mention or a winner.
The Good Neighbor Awards is sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
After slugging it through the 60-mile walk during Seattle’s Susan G. Komen 3-Day Race for breast cancer in September 2007, Tina McDonough’s head told her, never again. But when breast cancer claimed her friend’s life two months later, McDonough’s heart told her to walk to the ends of the earth for a cure.
Her friend, Michelle Brown, had been living with breast cancer and had talked McDonough into joining the 2007 event. Brown’s group of four walkers raised $11,945 that year, “but it was hard,” McDonough recalls. McDonough chalked it up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience—but two months later, Michelle died at age 38.
“I watched her 12-year-old daughter and her husband fall apart. Attending her funeral was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” McDonough says. “I knew I had to do something, so in February 2008, I started a team to walk in her memory.”
That team, Valley Girls & Guys!, is now the No. 1 fundraising team in the United States. To date, they’ve raised $1.4 million for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the largest nonprofit source of breast cancer research funding outside of the U.S. government. Among other activities, the organization’s funding goes toward research, free mammograms for thousands of women, treatment assistance programs, and a helpline for breast cancer survivors.
This year, Valley Girls & Guys! will have 168 walkers. The average team has 10 members. Even more remarkable: 75 percent of walkers on McDonough’s team return every year.
“Most teams get only about one-third of their walkers to return,” she says. That’s because each participant is required to raise $2,300 in order to walk, and the walk itself is 60 miles long over three days. “Twenty miles of walking a day is grueling and takes quite a bit of preparation.”
“Raising this money can be overwhelming to some,” says Brenda Pitzen, who has been on McDonough’s team since 2008.
Laura Richardson, a childhood friend of McDonough’s who has been walking with her from the start, agrees. “With Tina, no walker is left behind. If you want to walk, she’ll make that happen. She’ll encourage you. The money portion isn’t so scary,” says Richardson.
The key, says Richardson, is McDonough’s passion. “She has the ability to keep people engaged. Her drive and passion is contagious.”
Indeed, McDonough’s skill at encouraging local businesses and individuals to come together during the year to raise money for the team is unmatched. “This isn’t a couple-month thing for me," McDonough says. "It's a year-long event.”
In addition to smaller monthly fundraisers, McDonough holds four large events. One of her favorites is her well-known Survivor Event, held every August.
“It’s a hugebarbecue in our seven-acre backyard,” says McDonough. That event alone raises about $20,000. Also, each March, the team has an auction night out. “Our first one in 2008 raised $26,000. Last year, we had 425 guests and raised $151,000 in one night,” she says. “The entire team comes together for these events. It brings us closer and builds unity.”
It’s also a way for McDonough to build personal relationships with the walkers, many of whom become her close friends. Everyone feels McDonough’s kind, caring embrace. Case in point: Those who want to be on the team but are too sick to walk get a personalized blanket. “The blanket includes the names of the entire team,” says McDonough, who has had 56 blankets personalized—at her own expense—since February 2013.
“I didn’t know Tina when I joined her team,” says Tracy Kurdrna, a team member since 2009 and a breast cancer survivor. “They were raising a lot of money. I was in it for the fundraising.”
Today, Kurdrna is one of 13 breast cancer survivors who walk with Valley Girls and Guys!, and she and McDonough are good friends. “Tina rallies around people like no one else. She can fundraise around nothing. She’s brilliant,” Kurdrna says.
It’s this special gift that has people devoted to her and the cause. “The best way I can explain it is that Tina sees fundraising opportunities everywhere. She’s passionate, and companies literally jump on board,” Pitzen says. “She is so good at recognizing and supporting the companies that sponsor us that they always want to go [above and beyond] to support her.”
McDonough never misses an opportunity to remind people about the cause; she even includes the Komen logo on her real estate signs. “It’s crazy to think one person can influence something like this, but it’s true,” says Richardson, whose grandmother passed away from breast cancer.
“If you told me six years ago that I’d be doing this, I would have laughed,” says McDonough. “I feel guilty that it took a tragedy for me to create this team. It’s the best way I can honor my friend and others who have succumbed to this disease.”
—By Tracey C. Velt
Updated: January 22, 2020