Falcon Soldier Fights Cancer One Step At A Time
August 21, 2012
SAVANNAH, Ga. -- It's 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday at Lake Mayer Community Park. Already the path surrounding the lake is bustling with runners and walkers, some chipper, some weathered from Friday night's fun. A man runs with his son, getting him in shape for football season. A local U.S. Army Reserve unit holds an Army Physical Fitness Test. A pair of old men fish, hoping for late biters.
Staff Sergeant Beatriz Flores-Torres, the brigade spectrum manager of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, is among the go-getters enjoying the morning reprieve from the brutal August heat. She walks, but with an intensity unmatched by anyone else on the path - runners and APFT-takers included.
Shades on, headphones in, and sporting a red, white and blue DetermiNation athletic shirt, she strides with a purpose. She completes four laps of the 1.5-mile course, totaling a tidy six miles for her hour of walking. Covered in sweat, she knows many more miles remain between now, Nov. 3 and Savannah's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.
But more important are the steps she's taking to fight cancer.
Staff Sergeant Beatriz Flores-Torres is working with the DetermiNation program of the American Cancer Society to raise money and awareness for cancer research by walking a half-marathon during Savannah's annual Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, Nov. 3.
Cancer has struck Flores-Torres' family hard and often in the past three years: six family members were diagnosed with cancer and five succumbed to it.
Flores-Torres said her family's history with cancer began with her grandfather, Catalino Torres, who served as an infantryman in the Korean War. Diagnosed with throat cancer, he was the first person to receive an electronic voice box from the Army. He died when Flores-Torres' mother was 14.
It was the death of an uncle, Angel Flores, she said, that was the most difficult for her. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer that quickly spread and consumed him.
"It was hard," said Flores-Torres. "I was doing some recruiter training and I couldn't get away. I would have loved to see him, but at the same time, it can be better to remember them as they were and not how they end up."
Despite her intimate and painful experiences, she said had not taken an active role in combating cancer until now. She would contribute through the Combined Federal Campaign, which allows charities to solicit federal employees, to various cancer research organizations. It was her family who had made the extra effort.
"My family has always been involved with [cancer activism] because of the history," Flores-Torres said. "Individually, this is the first time I've gotten with a group and tried to do a bit more than just donating."
Randomly seeing a flier promoting the American Cancer Society's involvement in the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon jolted her to action, she said. Last year, she had run in the Army Ten-Miler. Why not up the ante - and support cancer research in the process?
Later that Saturday, after a shower and a change of clothes, Flores-Torres and her friend and full-marathoner, Patricia Merino, sold baked goods in front of the Hooters Restaurant on Georgia State Route 204. The spread was classic American bake sale: chocolate chip cookies, brownies, cupcakes, even red, white and blue Rice Krispie treats.
Flores-Torres agreed to raise $1,700 in order to walk with the DetermiNation team. Some of she plans to earn through per-mile donations as she completes the 13.1-mile walk in November. The rest she must earn through fundraisers.
Besides the bake sale, she's set up a raffle for a $50 gift card for all donors, and she's planning a charity event at Capone's Billiards, Bar and Grill in Savannah, Aug. 31, from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Flores-Torres has also taken to Facebook to promote DetermiNation and herself, something she said has drawn her family members into the process.
"My cousins are honored I put my uncle's name on my page," she said. "I have family here in the States -- most of them are in Puerto Rico -- but they've all shared my page with other friends to advertise and share the story.
"Awareness - sometimes that's more important than just money."
The awareness has bled into her company. A fellow staff sergeant in her section was at the bake sale, helping her drum up business. The company first sergeant shared fliers with the rest of the company in mass emails. Not least of all was one of her supervisors, Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Whalen, who not only was the first to donate to her effort, but has supported her DetermiNation teammates as well.
The stresses of fundraising coupled with an upcoming deployment have not distracted Flores-Torres from training, however.
"I don't know, 13.1 miles...for whatever reason, walking it feels harder than running," she said, laughing.
DetermiNation's 18-week training program began June 23. Since then, Flores-Torres has been walking four miles every morning during physical training, due to a running profile she's had since undergoing knee surgery in 2009. She uses an elliptical machine at home for low-impact training.
Her goal is to finish the walk in two hours and thirty minutes. She fears her bad knee might hold her back, along with Savannah's unforgiving heat. But she's dedicated to achieving her goal, something that hasn't gone unnoticed.
Emma Davis, the DetermiNation event manager, said she's gotten to know Flores-Torres over the past two months, and that she's improved considerably.
"She's made great progress, not only in fundraising but in training," Davis said. "She's been out here almost every practice and we've increased the mileage every week - from one to two miles in the beginning, she's now doing six."
As she strides toward November, Flores-Torres said she's motivated by the belief that she's truly making a difference.
"I know if it wasn't for the American Cancer Society, maybe my uncle wouldn't have been so lucky in getting diagnosed early, and be cancer-free," she said. "I just hope there are more survivors in my family than there on names on my flier."
That's why for the next 71 days, she'll be pounding pavement across Savannah, bad knee and all. And as she laps Lake Mayer on a Saturday morning, shades on and headphones in, she'll know from the burn in her legs that the fight against cancer is a marathon, and not a sprint.
To donate to Staff Sgt. Beatriz Flores-Torres' DetermiNation program, please visit main.acsevents.org/goto/bflores.