John Shinar's Miles for Martha

By: John S. Forrester for New Balance
Posted on October 24, 2014

Many runners know the feeling of trying to outrun something bad: The end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the end of a life.

Before losing her battle against breast cancer in 2012, Martha Shinar would run about 1,000 miles a year. A year after she passed, her husband of 30 years walked more than 800 miles to honor her memory.

“The No. 1 one thing I was trying to do was just carry a message of who my wife was and the life that she lived. I just didn’t want that to be forgotten,” Her husband, John Shinar, explains, “And the second thing was, I wanted to fight back. I wanted to fight back against the disease.”

In 2013, Shinar dedicated himself to traveling around the country to participate in all 14 Susan G. Komen 3-Days and three Race for the Cure events, events that raise funds for breast cancer research. Along the way, the Twin Cities resident’s non-profit organization, Miles for Martha, raised more than $30,000 toward research and health programs. He also found others who shared his life experiences.

“I never ever anticipated the folks that I would meet along the way and the stories you hear that completely just take you to a different place. They just make you feel at the same time that you’re not alone in this whole thing,” says Shinar. “It’s incredibly therapeutic.”

Shinar is continuing the journey this year. So far, he has signed up for three 3-Day events and his goal is to raise more than $10,000.

Martha was first diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in early 1992 at age 32. After chemotherapy, two mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries, the mother of two became determined to embrace her life as a survivor and remain present as long as possible for her son and daughter.

“After that initial diagnosis you realize -- both of us realized -- what you have in life,” remembers Shinar.

“She made a plan every year. January 1st in my household, we sat down and we always figured out a plan for that year and the next year. Things we wanted to try to accomplish,” he says. “A lot of the stuff that was put on that list I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford, but I tried to figure out a way to get it done.”

Through vacations and other activities together, the family threaded a two decade-long timeline of positive memories despite the uncertainties following Martha’s treatment.

“At the end of the 20 years, we took a look back and there were no regrets because we took those trips with our kids and did all those things, had those memories. And that was because of her,” Shinar says.

Alongside the family’s renewed sense of living life to the fullest, Martha began running. A lot.

“It was at her five-year watermark that she and I ran in a Race for the Cure in Chicago,” remembers Shinar. “She had never done a road race of any sort. I had been doing different races and triathlons and she always wanted to try to do that. It so inspired her, from that point forward she became a runner.”

Martha racked up miles in half-marathons, 10-milers and she eventually finished a marathon. And she kept returning to run in Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure in twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, where the couple had lived for the past 16 years. Beyond athletics, Shinar says the Komen events offered his wife an annual affirmation of survival and a sense of community with fellow survivors.

“It made her feel alive. It made her feel strong. It made her feel like she was going to make it to the next year,” he says.

Then, in early 2011, the bad news came: Martha’s breast cancer had come back. Though she had been an active and happy survivor for about 20 years, the cancer had slowly spread from her breast to a lung, then into her bones, before finally reaching her spinal fluid. Several months later, Martha’s struggle was over, and the wife and mother was laid to rest in June 2012.

John Shinar was not content to simply mourn over the loss of his wife. He wanted to do something to honor her memory and help others. That same year, he started Miles for Martha, a charitable organization to raise funds toward breast cancer research and awareness efforts, and decided to walk each of that year’s 14 Susan G. Komen 3-Day events.

It was “cathartic,” he says. “They helped bring me back, to be honest with you,” Shinar says. “Plus, I felt connected to my bride for the three days that I was doing them.”

And just as his wife had found support from other survivors at Race for the Cure events years ago, John Shinar discovered there were many people taking part in the 3-Days who could understand his experiences as a co-survivor.

While walking the route in one city, Shinar met a young woman whose story hit close to home.

“She was wearing her mom’s face on her back and I noticed that her mom was basically the same age as Martha” he says. “And when I found out that the girl was the same age as my daughter, whose brother was the same age as my son...their experience was very similar. The fight that these kids are putting up in their mom’s honor was just honorable.”

“You just meet all these different people that just inspire you and make you feel like a part of a big family.”

By the end of 3-Day season in 2013, Shinar had walked more than 800 miles in 14 cities, raised over $30,000 and met hundreds of survivors and co-survivors along the way. This year, Shinar is scaling back on the number of 3-Day events to spend more time volunteering with his local Komen affiliate in the Twin Cities to keep awareness and fundraising going outside of 3-Days and Race for the Cure events.

Awareness and fundraising should be a yearlong effort, reminds Shinar.

“The need is there 365 days a year,” he says. “There’s folks that need the support when they get a diagnosis in february or they’re going through a chemotherapy treatment in june.”

“It’s nice that they feel like that support is there year-round.”

Photo Credits: John Shinar and Event360/Susan G. Komen

Photos from right to left:- John Shinar at a Susan G. Komen 3-Day event in 2013.- Shinar and his son Robert at a 3-Day event in 2013.- Martha and John Shinar.- Martha Shinar at one of the many races she ran in.- John Shinar with his son Robert and daughter Ally at a 3-Day event in 2013.