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330 miles = $30,000 for breast cancer research

Trio of runners finish trek across Michigan

Caledonia — Sitting at their table at a local party store and deli, Kraft Meadows Intermediate sixth-grade teacher Becky Bravata caught up with friends Lieschen Jacobs and Liz Burnis.

“I feel great,” Bravata said. “I went for a five-mile run this morning.”

“No, you did not!” Burnis exclaimed. “This gal is nuts.”

A morning run wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Bravata, but these three avid runners were only home a few days after running over 330 miles the week prior. 

In the first-ever Border to Bridge Run, Bravata, Jacobs and Burnis ran across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula from the Indiana border to the Mackinac Bridge over eight days and raised funds for breast cancer research through the Van Andel Institute.

“People thought we were crazy, but we had lots of people behind us, supporting us, and the community really got involved,” Bravata said.

Burnis said everything exceeded their expectations. “It took on a life of its own,” she said. “I was blown away by the attention it was actually getting.”

The idea came out of a neighborhood run during the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

“During Covid, all official races were canceled so we started meeting up to run outside and came up with a bucket list of running ideas,” Jacobs said. “I threw out the idea to run across the state and after having conversations about it, we were committed.” 

After establishing their goal, the three decided that if they were going to take on something big, they wanted it to have purpose. Bravata pitched fundraising for Van Andel Institute’s breast cancer research.

“I shared our plan with Van Andel and they were all in,” Bravata said.  

Their official donation website launched in fall 2021 and each runner raised funds through work, family and the community. Bravata’s students also competed in a Penny Wars competition and raised close to $4,000.  

By the end of their run, the team raised more than $30,000. 

“Our hope is that the money is going to allow women and men to live fuller lives,” Jacobs said.

From left, Becky Bravata, Lieschen Jacobs and Liz Burnis enjoy a lunch break from their run (courtesy)

From Border to Bridge: 331.5 miles

Not long after moving to Caledonia, Burnis helped start the running group, Run, Caledonia, Run, in 2013.

“We created a group page on Facebook and put feelers out to runners in Caledonia,” she explained. “Over time we met people through school and church, and now on Saturdays we have five to 15 people of all abilities show up.”

Familiar with bringing people together through social media, the three women made a Facebook page for their run and provided a link for people to donate.  “We wanted to make our run official, not just some girls trotting across the state,” Bravata added. 

The women followed an intense training plan, pushing themselves and testing their endurance. “Last summer we did a 40-mile training run from Howard City to Ashton and ran back the next day,” Liz explained. “We assessed if that pace was sustainable and then wove those experiences into our route.”

“We had a lot of people giving us advice about caring for our feet, recovery, and nutritionists recommending how to fuel and take care of ourselves,” Bravata said. 

The trio covered an average of 40 miles – equal to a marathon plus 13.8 miles – each day.

Each morning began with breakfast, stretching and leg rolling to prepare their bodies for approximately 12 hours of running and walking. 

“One of my favorite parts was running through small towns or beautiful lakes and some of these communities you never visit up north,” Jacobs said. 

The runners had a traveling group of supporters, including Jacobs’ husband and kids and Burnis’ sister and kids. “Our crew was the backbone of keeping us going,” Burnis said. “They set up a lunch station during the day and drove us to wherever we were spending the night.”

The three families came together to camp for a few nights up north, a “great memory” for everyone involved, Jacobs said. 

The three Caledonia Border to Bridge runners presented $30,050 to the Van Andel Institute to support breast cancer research (courtesy)

Running For A Cause

Friends and strangers showed up along the route in support.

“We saw a lot of people and talked to a lot of people along the way,” Bravata said. “People would run with us and give us snacks and water. One man brought us slices of watermelon and shared the story of his mom’s battle with breast cancer.” 

People’s stories reminded Bravata, Burnis and Jacobs of their reason for running. 

“We’re capable of doing challenging things and we did this challenge with the purpose of supporting people with breast cancer,” Jacobs said. “I truly want to help prevent this horrible disease so more women can live full lives as moms, daughters, sisters and friends.” 

Despite the daunting distance they needed to cover to achieve their goal, the three kept moving forward.

“We took it one day at a time and remembered each step was one step farther north,” Jacobs said. 

Bravata added: “It was a lot of work but I never got sick of running. None of us said ‘we can’t do it.’ We started and finished as a team.”

After eight days of praying and running in “perfect weather,” the trio reached the Mackinac Bridge and ran into Lake Huron – finishing the trek. 

“It was a physical and emotional run for all of us,’ Bravata said. “It was also for a cause that brought people together. It’s OK to talk about it and we’re here to wrap our arms around people that need it.” 

She added: “It reaffirmed that Caledonia is a great place to be, and I’m really proud of our hometown. We got so much support and encouragement and even our students didn’t have any doubts that we could do it.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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