The following article was updated in April 2019.
May 11, 2019 marks the 8th Annual Miles Against Melanoma-NC race event, a signature fundraising event for melanoma awareness and prevention in our community. At the helm of Miles Against Melanoma NC is its founder, Heather Joyner (pictured above with her parents). Below, learn how this movement and local chapter of Miles Against Melamona – a cause near and dear to Heather’s heart – is making a difference in our local fight against melanoma skin cancer:
Tell us about the inspiration behind Miles Against Melanoma and how you first started the organization. When my sister died I had a huge desire to honor her memory in some way. When she died I was pregnant with my first child and soon after had 2 more. Raising our girls and working full time took a lot of my time. It wasn’t until our girls were older that I was able to begin working on honoring Amy’s memory. I got into running about 9 years ago and found myself signing up for races for all these different causes but could never find a race that supported skin cancer or melanoma, specifically. Through a training group for the Get Your Rear In Gear 5k I met Paige Hauff with PR Race Management and Dan Keller with Omega Sports. I reached out to them both one morning on my way to work and each of them immediately responded to me with their support. That following year we had our first 5K. We had about 150 registrants and raised $4,500! Our last event we had close to 700 registrants and have donated over $150,000 to the [Melanoma and Immunotherapy Fund at Levine Cancer Institute] since our inception.
Your sister, Amy Jo, has been an important inspiration for the journey you’ve taken with Miles Against Melanoma NC; what is one of your fondest memories of her? And, how do you keep her memory and spirit alive in this event and movement? My fondest memory of [Amy Jo] is her sense of humor. She was so funny and full of life always making others smile. We keep her memory alive and spirit alive at the race by sharing her story. We have a survivor and angel wall at the event that is comprised of photos and stories of Amy and others who are fighting or lost their fight.
What are some of the most important ways Miles Against Melanoma NC is raising awareness for melanoma in the community? We have worked with Atrium Health Foundation and Levine Cancer Institute to create a melanoma educational video.That video is shown to middle school aged children in the greater Charlotte area. It teaches them what melanoma is, how to protect their skin and stay safe in the sun, the dangers of tanning beds, the importance of an annual skin exam, and also how to get a healthy tan by using spray tans and lotions. We are also working on installing free sunscreen dispensers in the community.
As any great fundraising event evolves over time, what are some of the unique features of this year’s Miles Against Melanoma race, such as ways in which you will honor survivors or others on race day? I am so excited about our yard signs this year! I have always wanted to take the photo from the posters and make signs to place on the race course. This year, signs will be displayed along the course, specifically on two of the larger hills on the course. I am hoping they give the runners/walkers inspiration along the way. One section will show all of our survivors and another section will display all the angels. We will also be honoring our top fundraisers this year with their own tent, table, and snacks!
As the event has grown, what or who (other than your sister, of course) has inspired you along the way to keep this great event growing and moving forward? I am inspired each year by all of our participants, volunteers, and sponsors. Looking out and seeing all the people gathered for the same reason. It’s amazing to see how melanoma or other skin cancers have affected so many in our community. That morning is about hope and giving those grieving a way to honor and remember their loved one. I am honored to be able to offer a way for them all to gather, remember, and honor.
In all the years it has existed, how has Miles Against Melanoma NC shaped who you are today, as a leader and organizer in the community — and in our local fight against melanoma? It has helped me build new relationships with local businesses and people in the community and has helped me live a more enriched and meaningful life.
What is one of your proudest accomplishment, particularly in light of the fundraising impact Miles Against Melanoma NC has had in community, and on Levine cancer institute patients? Our race committee is made up of working moms, three of whom are melanoma survivors. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the years and making an impact on the melanoma community. To date we have donated over $150,000 to the Melanoma and Immunotherapy Fund at Levine Cancer Institute.
What three words best describe who you are? Dedicated, passionate, and driven.
Below are a few easy ways to get involved and support Miles Against Melanoma NC, and to do your part to “Save the skin you’re in!” –
- Sign up for the Miles Against Melanoma NC race – taking place on Saturday, May 11. https://www.milesagainstmelanomaclt.org/
- Set a reminder on your calendar to schedule an annual skin exam with your dermatologist.
- Join other upcoming fundraising events benefiting MAM-NC, such as the GloBody Fashion Show: details.
Also, in celebration of National Volunteer Week, and in anticipation of the Miles Against Melanoma NC race later this month, we would like to highlight one of Miles Against Melanoma NC’s most dedicated volunteers: Robin Kolodziey (pictured below, far right).
How long have you been volunteering with Miles Against Melanoma NC? I have been volunteering with MAM for almost 8 years – since its inception. (This is the 7th race, but we planned for almost a year before the initial race happened!)
What inspired you to take part in this important fundraising initiative and event? I was inspired to participate in MAM by its founder, Heather Joyner and her sister who passed from Melanoma, Amy. I knew Amy during her later fight with Melanoma through my friendship with Heather. Heather and I were training for a 1/2 marathon together several years after Amy passed, and during one of our runs, she mentioned that she was thinking about starting a race in honor of Amy. I thought “Yes! Great idea!” and I knew that I would participate in any way needed from that moment forward. MyDad, Sam Gaertner, and my Father-in-law, Bob Kolodziey, have both had many skin cancers removed. I know how important it is to provide funding for further research and education about melanoma.
What is your role with Miles Against Melanoma NC? My primary role on the race committee is to help provide volunteers for the race day events. I teach high school, and encourage service learning. I saw this as a great opportunity not only to educate students about Melanoma, but to get them involved in the community. Every year many students volunteer and afterwards many thank me for the opportunity. Many student volunteers have been touched by the pictures and stories that are posted on the Angel and Survivor wall. It is a quick lesson in the fragility of life.
What has been the most rewarding part about volunteering with Miles Against Melanoma NC? My favorite part of volunteering for MAM is doing something that makes a difference to others, and recognizes the struggles of others. It also shows kids (and people in general) a healthy way to try and deal with tragedy brought on by disease. I love to see the teams that run together to support their survivors as well as the teams that run together to support each other in the celebration of those they are mourning. It has been awesome to watch the race grow over the years, with both new participants and those who come back year after year. I hope that the money raised and donated makes a difference in the lives of those with Melanoma, and that it is making a difference in educating the community about the risks of melanoma.
What are a few words that best describe who you are? Passionate, Dedicated, Loyal, and Caring.
On behalf of Miles Against Melanoma Institute, thank you, Robin, for your unwavering support of this important fundraising initiative that benefits Levine Cancer Institute and the Greater-Charlotte community.
Pictured above (left to right): Candace Gladu, Heather Joyner, Jennifer Swegan, and Robin Kolodziey.