Woman Finds Inspiration for Jimmy Fund Walk While Traveling the Country

Barbara and her friend, Betty, at the Jimmy Fund Walk finish line
Barbara and her friend, Betty, at the Jimmy Fund Walk finish line

It all began as a way to celebrate being 65 and healthy. Barbara Sirvis had been getting herself into the best shape she had been in since retiring as a college president. She wanted to recognize her accomplishment by doing something big, something that she couldn’t have done before.

After some convincing from her friend and veteran walker, Betty McEnaney, Sirvis had her challenge: the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.

That was year one, and Sirvis is now training for year four. But she no longer does it for herself; she does it for the patients and for everyone who has fought cancer.

Part of what makes Sirvis’s walk special is the names she collects for Walk Day. Sirvis lives in Vermont and winters in California, and every year she travels across the country in an RV with her dog. Along the way, she stops at campsites, meets people, and listens to their stories. Often, Sirvis finds people who have been touched by cancer, and she tells them she walks for the Jimmy Fund to support the cancer research and patient and family care at Dana-Farber. Sirvis collects the names of those who have been touched by cancer and adds them to the t-shirt she wears on the Walk Day. This year, she will have more than 250.

Barbara's Walk t-shirt, covered in names
Barbara’s Walk t-shirt, covered in names

Now an annual tradition, Sirvis spends the night before the Walk writing all the names on the back of her shirt. She reserves her sleeves for her donors’ names.

“It’s like everyone I walk for has my back as I tackle the 26.2 miles, and all my donors are at my shoulders, holding me up. I couldn’t do it without their support and encouragement,” Sirvis says.

For Sirvis, Walk day is the best day. In addition to the names she collects, Sirvis finds inspiration in the Walk Hero signs that line the route with stories of Dana-Farber patients. Every mile reaffirms her faith in the Jimmy Fund’s mission to support cancer research and care at Dana-Farber.

“A former colleague told me I would spend a third of my life learning, a third of my life earning, and a third of my life giving back. My job now is to give back, to walk, and to raise money for an organization that truly makes a difference,” Sirvis says.

BarbaraSivris4-2This year, Sirvis will have a special name to add to her shirt. In July, her 90-year-old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and was treated near her home in North Carolina. The treatment, Sirvis says, has been a positive experience and her mother’s prognosis is good. In fact, Sirvis’s connection to the Jimmy Fund came full circle when she learned her mother’s nurse practitioner did her training at Dana-Farber. At that point, Sirvis says, she knew her mother was in good hands.

The Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai will be held on September 21 this year and there is still time to sign up and lace up, to support a walker or to make a general gift to the event.