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Fit for a Cause: Real Women Who Are Changing the World

Meet real women who are taking steps to fight cancer and other diseases. Be inspired to get fit for a cause too!

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Carol McGarrahan
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Cynthia Steger, 48, Williamsburg, Virginia

Raised $15,000 for the American Heart Association

Cynthia, whose oldest brother died of a massive heart attack at age 29, had her first heart attack four years ago, at age 44. This will be her third year doing the Start! Heart Walk in Newport News, Virginia. "The beautiful thing about a walk is that it's not just about giving money -- you're doing something to reduce your risk of heart disease, too," she says.

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Cathy Miller, 46, Long Island, New York

Raised $334,000 for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)

"I had no idea what ALS really was until my husband's cousin, Jemma, was diagnosed with the disease when she was 30," she says. Cathy created the "For the Love of Jemma" team four years ago, which participates in the Long Island Walk to Defeat ALS every year. "The great thing about the walk is that all the money goes toward research, so you know what you're doing is making a difference."

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Carol McGarrahan, 47, Raleigh, North Carolina

Raised $72,000 for the National Lung Cancer Partnership

When Carol's best friend, Sara, was diagnosed with lung cancer after being a lifelong nonsmoker, the two knew something had to be done to help raise awareness. Together they helped form the NC Lung Cancer Partnership. Sara passed away last year, but the organization's inaugural Free to Breathe 5K had more than 850 participants. "You see so many others who have been affected by lung cancer, and it makes you realize that you have a chance to make a difference," she says.

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Karen Owens, 39, Nashville, and Linda DeVault, 52, Gallatin, Tennessee

Raised $100,481 for Alzheimer's Association

Karen lost two grandmothers and a grandfather to Alzheimer's disease. She also has a couple of aunts with the disease. This will be her third year participating in the Memory Walk. Linda is her team's captain and got involved through her employer, Brookdale Senior Living.

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Luna Chix Bay Area Trail Running Team, 20s to 40s

The Luna Chix program has raised $227,538 for The Breast Cancer Fund

Luna Chix are teams of women nationwide who participate in triathlons and running and cycling events. The Bay Area team has eight members and has raised $4,000 this season. "Marin County, where we live, has the highest breast cancer rate in the world," says team captain Laurel Kato. "This is a really important issue for our team members and we want to help people be proactive in preventing cancer."

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Kristy Sidlar, 39, Troy, Michigan

Raised $25,000 for the American Heart Association

Kristy was out biking, as part of triathlon training, on her 31st birthday when she began fading in and out of consciousness. She was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with rapid heartbeat. Doctors installed an ICD (cardioverter defibrillator) in her chest to control her heartbeat, but she's had to tone down her training. "My new outlook is power walking," says Kristy, who takes part in the Start! Heart Walk regularly. "It was a big wake-up call for me -- everyone is affected."

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Kristin McQueen, 29, Naperville, Illinois

Raised $72,000 for the American Cancer Society (ACS)

Kristin was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2003 and has run 12 marathons to raise money for ACS. "Running is the only time I feel like I have a say in what my body's doing," she says. "In races, I'm not a patient, just a runner."

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Hope Stickney Weyant, 31, Orlando, Florida

Raised $7,100 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Hope, whose 2-year-old son, A.J., has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, hiked the Grand Canyon with Team in Training last spring and is running a half marathon this month. "Training forces you to focus on something positive," she says.

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Judith Ursitti, 42, Boston, Massachusetts

Raised $40,000 for Autism Speaks

"If you take care of yourself physically, you'll be able to handle your child better too," says Judith, who has an autistic 5-year-old son, Jack. She's helped organize and participated in three Walk Now for Autism events.

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Susan Sonley, 54, Reston, Virginia

Raised $555,000 for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Susan, a 14-year breast cancer survivor, has regularly walked in or run the Komen Race for the Cure since 1995. Says Susan: "I look around at races, see girls, and think, I want them to have a breast cancer-free life."

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Denise Rock, 37, Kansas City, Missouri

Raised $33,000 for March of Dimes

Denise, whose preemie son died two days after birth, has done the March for Babies walk seven years in a row. Denise says, "I got further along in both my daughters' pregnancies because of the March of Dimes."

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Debby Padzensky, 42, Deerfield, Illinois

Raised $110,000 for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Diagnosed with breast cancer two years after her father, Ron, was, Debby has walked the Breast Cancer 3-Day for eight years. "Spending a weekend with people who share a passion to stop breast cancer is amazing," she says.

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Karen Mateo, 38, New York, New York

Raised $29,000 for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC)

"So many lives are touched by cancer," says Karen, whose mom passed away in 1996 of kidney cancer. Karen has since completed five marathons with MSKCC's running group, Fred's Team: "As long as I can run, I should."

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Kate Patton, 33, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Raised $109,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Kate has run 11 Boston Marathons. The first was three years after her mother's MS diagnosis. "Watching my mom struggle made me realize that enduring a marathon wasn't so bad," Kate says. "Running helps me face it all."

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Carol Duggan, 47, Canton, Massachusetts

Raised $20,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Carol's daughter Kimberly, 20, has thyroid cancer. "Kim is going to be okay, but I wanted to raise money for other parents and kids," says Carol, who ran her first marathon at Walt Disney World this year. "St. Jude's is a great help."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2008.

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