Team captains key to Walk For Life success

Columbia, SC  10/06/2007 Walkers begin The Annual First Ladies' Walk for  Life as they exit Findlay Park and head up Gadesden Street on Saturday, Oct.  6, 2007.
Columbia, SC 10/06/2007 Walkers begin The Annual First Ladies' Walk for Life as they exit Findlay Park and head up Gadesden Street on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007.

Team captains are the backbone of the Palmetto Health Foundation's First Ladies' Walk For Life, and Mike Senterfeit is a classic example.

When the 19th Walk For Life hits the roads around Finlay Park on Saturday, Senterfeit's team of co-workers and family members will be walking for the 18th straight year. (He didn't walk the first year of the event only because he didn't hear about it.)

He got involved because his wife's family had a history of breast cancer, and the walk puts a focus on the need for early detection of the disease. Margot Senterfeit also participated in the events, helping recruit people at Providence Hospital, where she worked.

Their children Nicholas, 17, and Rachel, 22, are loyal participants. "We carried Nicholas as a baby," Mike said. "And he rode the entire route on my shoulders a couple of times."

Sadly, the family history was passed down to Margot, who succumbed to an invasive, virulent form of breast cancer in 2003 despite its early detection.

Mike never stopped organizing a walk team.

"To a certain extent, it's painful every year because we didn't intend for things to work out this way," said Senterfeit, 51. "But doing this each year is what she would have wanted me to do.

"I feel like if we do nothing more than raise awareness, and if one person decides to get a mammogram and is diagnosed early and doesn't die a premature death, then it is a success."

The success of the event depends largely on team captains. Nearly 75 percent of the walk participants are on teams, said Ashley Dusenbury, public relations director of the Palmetto Health Foundation.

"It's really a matter of the team captain being established and that person reaching out to all of their family, friends and co-workers," Dusenbury said. "That one person could reach out to many, many, many people that we wouldn't have been able to recruit on our own."

Senterfeit isn't the typical team leader. They're usually female and often the gung-ho type; he's a soft-spoken guy. But the effort comes from his heart, and people keep signing up to be on his team every year.

"I try not to make a big deal about it," Senterfeit said. "I don't look at it as something special I do. It's something people want to do, and I'm just there as their helper."

He simply sends out an e-mail to co-workers at Computer Sciences Corporation (formerly Mynd and before that Policy Management Systems Corporation), and they sign up.

"I've been here 25 years, and I know a lot of people here," he said. "I'm a familiar name, a familiar face, and people expect me to do this now.

"But they're not loyal to me; they're loyal to the cause."

At the company's peak employment several years ago, nearly 750 co-workers joined the Walk For Life team. As the company workforce has shrunk, the walk team has, too - down to 65 last year. But Senterfeit suspects many of the company's former employees now walk with other groups.

He doesn't care who people walk with, he just encourages them to walk. His own team doesn't walk together in one big clump.

"My family splits off in three groups now," Senterfeit said. "My daughter walks with her friends. My son walks with his friends."

What's important is they participate. He encourages people who can't make the walk at least to contribute and wear a walk T-shirt.

"Somebody might see that shirt and decide to get a mammogram," he said.