Last year, more than 800 Bakersfield women and men laced up their sneakers and gave up their lunch hour to walk for Links for Life. What began in 2006 as a small event to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month has turned into the Little Walk That Could.
It has grown from one location in downtown Bakersfield to four locations with three in Bakersfield and the newest debuting this year in Tehachapi.
Links for Life Executive Director Jennifer Henry says the original intent for the walk hasn't changed.
"It's an incredible way to celebrate breast cancer survivors and remember those we have lost," said Henry. "We also honor those who are fighting today."
Links for Life provides services and support to any uninsured or underinsured Kern County woman. Henry says in 2010 her group provided more than 400 mammograms, more than 800 ultrasounds and 63 needle biopsies.
"Eleven women were diagnosed with breast cancer," said Henry, "and with that positive diagnosis they were able to receive breast cancer treatment."
Links for Life also provided more than 285 wigs last year to local women and had strong showings at monthly support groups and yoga classes.
Stephanie Lynch will step into the role of president of Links for Life this year and has been a part of the Lace'n It Up event since its inception. Now overseeing all four walks, she remembers the timeline in adding each of the additional events.
"After the second year of the downtown walk, we were contacted by participants on the west side," said Lynch. "They wanted to add a walk on their side of town to make it easier to attend."
More than 200 attended that first westside walk, with participants from several oil companies including Oxy, Chevron, Aera and Nations Petroleum along with Castle & Cooke.
Then the ladies on the east side spoke up.
"We were really stretched with two walks and didn't think we could handle a third," said Lynch. "But the ladies on the east side took care of everything.
"Last year, their first year, we had 150 walkers from the Public Health Department, Kaiser Permanente, Kern Medical Center and the county Probation Department. And the entire walk, speakers and all, is bilingual."
All three of the Bakersfield walks will take place Monday, Oct. 3. The previous Saturday, Oct. 1, the Tehachapi Lace'n It Up walk will step off under the watchful eye of its chair, Mary VanBlake.
"Mary is one of our most energetic volunteers," said Henry. "She heads up the support group in Tehachapi with ladies coming in from Lancaster to take part."
While all three of the Bakersfield walks include lunch, Tehachapi will host a morning walk with breakfast afterward at the Senior Center.
What remains a constant with the Lace'n It Up walks is that the minimum donation is still $10 and includes the meal. However, Henry said there are incentives for larger donations.
"We're offering Brighton breast cancer awareness jewelry donated by Christine's and our ladies love that option," said Henry. "But it's all about the solidarity and our ladies and the people who love them. That aspect will never change."