For her 50th birthday, Laguna Beach resident touts breast cancer awareness by walking 50 miles in 50 states
Sharael Kolberg said she wanted to do something fun for her 50th birthday. At first, the plan was to visit all 50 states within the year.
Then, after beating breast cancer in December 2019, it became her goal to run 1 mile in every state to promote awareness and advocate for current patients and encourage women to do breast cancer screenings to catch the disease early. She started planning for her travel at the end of the year, only for her plans to be interrupted by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By March, Kolberg decided to pivot — she would run virtually with one person from every state, every day for 50 days. She found her last runner on Sunday in Delaware, just two days before her run began on Aug. 11, the day of her 50th birthday.
“The people that I’m partnering with are running in their own town. They’re not traveling. I’m not traveling, but I still get to see a little bit of every state,” Kolberg said.
“The fun part is that when I was going to travel, I was going to go to all the tourist destinations in each state to see the attractions. But through this process, I’ve been able to meet people in little tiny towns that I never even heard of,” Kolberg said, “and ... really get to know the insider’s glance at different states.”
Kolberg said she was diagnosed in August 2018 with triple-negative breast cancer, a type of breast cancer that can limit treatment options due to its lack of commonly found receptors. She said she was overdue for her mammogram when she felt a lump. She completed treatment in December 2019 after two lumpectomies and months of standard chemotherapy and oral chemotherapy.
“There definitely were days when I did not want to get out of bed. The fatigue was the worst thing because you can’t move. I couldn’t even open my eyes,” Kolberg said. “Your body just shuts down. Even on my worst days, my family was so great.”
“They were like, ‘You know what? Just get out of bed. Let’s just go for a walk’ and it made such a difference to just get up, even when you don’t feel like it,” Kolberg said.
“I really just wanted to give people hope and inspiration that are going through treatment right now because not too long ago, I was in a position where I could barely get out of bed,” Kolberg said, "[I] just wanted to give people hope — that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kolberg’s run will end on Sept. 29, just ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Kolberg said she would be participating in the Susan G. Komen Orange County’s More Than Pink Walk with her team, 50 for the Cure.
“The tagline [of More Than Pink Walk] is ‘Walk where you are.’ [Kolberg]'s no longer the one traveling to all 50 states and we’re asking people to do the same thing,” said Megan Klink, chief executive of Susan G. Komen Orange County.
“You can walk in your neighborhood, go to a park, but this is really in honor and protection of all our immunocompromised brothers and sisters who are battling breast cancer,” Klink said.
Kolberg said she started searching for runners in March, first with her friends and family before she started reaching out through Facebook and LinkedIn. The organization also helped Kolberg find running partners in the states she needed.
“We saw this amazing woman come up with something really creative and dynamic for her 50th and she lives in Laguna Beach,” Klink said. “We really worked together to build awareness for breast cancer and give people a platform to take action against the fight in the disease.”
“I think that for us it’s just inspiring to see that she was successful in getting a representative from 50 states to then rally people to walk where they are to build awareness for breast cancer,” Klink said. “For us, this is really critically important. In Orange County, five women a day are diagnosed and one woman passes away from breast cancer and that hasn’t changed because of COVID-19.”
Joining her on her inaugural run was her daughter, Katelyn Kolberg, 17, who matched her mother with a hot-pink face mask.
The Kolbergs and a group of their friends began their run Tuesday at Main Beach and finished at Bluebird Beach, where balloons celebrating Sharael Kolberg’s birthday, donuts and coffee awaited.
“I think it was a really cool way for her to kind of come full circle,” Katelyn said. “Running was something that she was really passionate about before she went into treatment, so for her to raise awareness to her journey while also doing something that she loved was really special.”
The Kolbergs said that the two would be running together, a mile a day, while streaming on Zoom with their running partners.
“Not a lot of people are doing this or utilizing Zoom in this way to connect on a physical level — getting out there, doing exercise — instead of using it for just strictly educational purposes,” Katelyn said. “I think this was a really creative way for her to use this platform in a way that no one’s ever really used it.”
Michelle Dunn, a friend of Kolberg’s, said she wanted to participate in the run on Tuesday because she knew “this has been a hard road for her, fighting cancer.”
“She’s such a survivor just in the way that she’s handled it and I was excited for her to see how much she put into this in putting this on. My sister’s going to run with her. She’s in Colorado, so it’s exciting how she’s gotten so many people involved,” Dunn said. “I’m just impressed and wanted to support and be here for her 50th birthday.”
Kolberg was smiling at Bluebird Beach on Tuesday, adding, “I’m walking for those who don’t want to get out of bed right now, who can’t get out of bed and cheering them on.”
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