By Molly Fast
I’ve been fortunate enough to work and grow up in the events business for nearly two decades. I have witnessed some of the most touching, heart-wrenching, emotional moments while working on the events we produce at Event 360. And as a participant in and board member of peer-to-peer fundraising events, I’ve also gotten to experience them from that perspective as well.
During this time of forced pause, I am thinking back on and dreaming of those moments that fueled the work I do, given purpose to the highs and lows, and propelled me to keep moving forward. I’m yearning for more of the moments we took for granted. All types of moments – from setting up endless boxes of t-shirts to helping manage a gnarly relocation to welcoming staff and participants to an event site.
While participants are eager for events to return, all of us working in the events industry are also counting down the seconds until we can get back to the safety and familiarity of what we love and know best: events. I’m lucky to have a very deep well of memories to look back upon to remind me of why I love what we do so much. Here are three I’d like to share with you:
Susan G. Komen 3-Day (staff)
My story with the 3-Day starts back in 1999 when my sister saw an ad for the very first New York 3-Day just as our mother was in surgery a couple of weeks after her own breast cancer diagnosis. Kara signed up, raised her money and as a family we watched her cross the finish line in Central Park. I was hooked from that moment. I volunteered in 2000, walked in 2001, joined the staff in 2002…and the rest is history.
The Susan G. Komen 3-Day is an event filled with impactful moments. Picking just one from the nearly 20 years that I’ve worked on the 3-Day seems impossible. The relocations you think will break you but actually make you stronger. The difficult conversations you’re forced to have with participants that provide you with empathy. The tension-breaking dance parties with your co-workers to shift the energy. The painstaking and backbreaking task of cleaning up the remnants of a confetti gun in an open field in Dallas, with the president of your company working alongside you to pick up all those darn pieces! The tear-filled moments witnessing participants’ bravery when they complete the very thing they convinced themselves they couldn’t do! There are so many to choose from. But, in a full-circle moment, the memory that sticks with me most involves my sister Kara, whose own participation in the 3-Day 21 years ago is why I’m here today.
In 2017, prompted by incredible loss, Kara signed back up for the 3-Day 18 years after she was first introduced to the event. Two of her closest friends, who she grew up alongside, died of breast cancer at the young age of 44, leaving their husbands and children behind. Knowing the healing powers of the 3-Day, Kara channeled her grief into purpose by training, fundraising and participating in the Philadelphia 3-Day. Her daughter, my niece Julia, signed up to be on the Youth Corps, and I loved having them on the event all weekend. I knew it was going to be emotional and challenging, but I also knew that it would help put some of the broken pieces of Kara’s heart together as she walked in memory of her dear friends Kelly and Linda.
I loved seeing Julia introduced to the 3-Day. I loved seeing Kara honor her friends in such a beautiful way. I loved that my niece Lila showed up to cheer on her mom and sister. I loved that they got to see the way everything came together – how much fun we all had and how much work we put in to create these memorable experiences for everyone. But after the Closing Ceremony (which was a little bumpy, to be honest!), I looked over and captured this beautiful moment:
I know how overwhelmed Julia and Lila were because their mother had two friends who died and they knew it could happen to their mom, too. I know Kara was managing her own grief in this moment as well. They were all scared and upset, but I know that the 3-Day showed them that there can be purpose to your pain. I’m so grateful they got to experience that and I was able to witness it firsthand. I’ve always been proud to be part of this incredible community, but in this moment, it was off the charts!
Cycle for Survival (participant)
Eight years ago at the prompting of my very favorite spin instructor (Hey, Justin!), I joined the Cycle for Survival community. My father died at the age of 55, six months after his diagnosis of esophageal cancer. So when I was asked to join Justin’s team, I didn’t hesitate. Raising money for rare cancer research was a way in which I could honor my father and apply the lessons I’ve learned over the years about peer-to-peer fundraising. I was all in from the very beginning and I’m unbelievably proud to say that in that time, I’ve raised nearly $226,000 by employing all of the basic fundraising advice we share with our participants.
Over the years, my participation has become even more purposeful. A close friend was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma (another rare form of cancer) at the age of 34. Another close friend was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer with an 8% survival rate. Ooof. Like so many of the participants we serve, I channeled my sadness and frustration (not to mention the unfairness of it all) into my event participation. And I’ve experienced so many joys as a result.
The event day experience provides so many uplifting and emotional moments as I was surrounded by the most energetic instructors and the most excited participants. My most impactful moment was during the 2018 event, when I dedicated my participation to my friend George who had been diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in December of 2017. In his honor, I raised $25k in 25 days and biked for four straight hours on a stationary bike. George and his wife Paula came during the final 30 minutes to cheer me on. George, moving slowly that day due to the side effects of his intense chemotherapy regimen, sat in a nearby chair for most of the time. But he was adamant about standing by my side as I pedaled those final few minutes in his honor. All my sadness and exhaustion were wiped away knowing he was just a touch away. I look back on that moment and treasure it. 54 days later, George died. Because of Cycle for Survival, I’ve found meaningful and impactful ways to keep George’s memory alive and continue to honor his life, which was cut way too short. And for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
Girls on the Run of Los Angeles (board member)
A year ago I joined the board of Girls on the Run of Los Angeles County. (I blogged about it just last October, which feels like 20 years ago.) Having the opportunity to learn about the non-profit world from a different perspective was highly appealing to me. After being in this industry for so long, I was craving a new experience. Nearly a year later from that blog post, I can say I still feel that way. But I also love being involved with an organization committed to helping shape the next generation of female leaders.
During our winter 5k last December, I took the time to talk with a mother of one of the girls who was running that day. We talked about how the day was shaping up and our conversation transitioned into about how her daughter liked the program. She talked about seeing her daughter’s confidence grow and how she noticed positive changes since the program started 10 weeks prior. And then she said, “I told my husband I wished this program existed when I was her age. I can’t imagine the ways it would have set me up to be more successful and confident in life.”
I couldn’t stop the biggest smile from forming on my face. It’s such a privilege to sit on the board of GOTRLA and I love knowing that I’m playing a small part in creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.
As I’ve said throughout this blog post, I’ve been fortunate to have so many memorable and life-changing moments during my nearly 20-year career in the events industry. I’ve had to draw upon so many of them (Facebook Memories seem to be both a blessing and a curse right now!) to sustain me while we’re all forced at home. But I remain endlessly grateful to all the moments. And I look forward with a hopeful heart to when we can all safely come together and build new memories.