Shari Kramer of Monkton will celebrate her 50th birthday hiking a marathon of 26.2 miles down the coast of San Diego.
Shari Kramer of Monkton will celebrate her 50th birthday hiking a marathon of 26.2 miles down the coast of San Diego. (Courtesy Shari Kramer)

Shari Kramer of Monkton will celebrate her 50th birthday hiking a marathon of 26.2 miles down the coast of San Diego.

Her marathon hike on Sept. 21 won’t just be a celebration of her turning 50 the next day and still having the stamina to complete an endurance trek, but of doing after a posterior hip replacement and a pelvic bone implant.

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Both are the results of the many treatments and surgeries Kramer has undergone during her bout with Stage 4 Metastatic Papillary Thyroid Cancer. September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month.

Kramer’s trek will start in La Jolla Cove, California. She’ll start winding her way southward. She’ll hike up Mount Soledad, then down to Pacific Beach and the Point Loma peninsula, before making her way east to the finish line at San Diego Harbor, where her mother and sister will be waiting.

“I am hoping to change the perception of cancer. I want people to know that stage-4 cancer patients are patients who are still alive," Kramer said. "We have dreams and goals, and when given the opportunity, we can cross finish lines too. I want to offer hope to people who are dealing with any hard circumstances.”

Kramer’s hike is organized Project Athena, a nonprofit dedicated to providing women with cancer and other setbacks athletic adventures to inspire them, and to help them inspire others.

Kramer, a facepainter and sales representative for B+M Clean, couldn’t walk a mile four months ago.

She has been up early mornings since then training.

“Yesterday I walked for 7 miles and I didn’t even blink,” Kramer said.

During the week, she walks around her community for 30 minutes. On the weekend, she spends hours on the stone-dust, 10-foot wide Northern Central Railroad (NCR) Trail, named for the former rail line. Also known as the Torrey C. Brown Trail, it extends 20 miles, stretching from Ashland Road in the Hunt Valley area to the Pennsylvania line.

“Last week a woman rolled her car window down and yelled at me, ‘You know you are kind of a celebrity in this town. We are all praying for you!’” said Kramer, who is joined on her training walks by friends and family.

“I have shared my story and occasionally post my walking schedule. When I walk there has been different people who shout out to me, ‘Keep walking Shari!’ I receive high fives and thumbs up all along the trail. My parents have friends who are in their 70s, who started training just to walk 10 miles with me. It has been exciting to meet new people and spend quality time with those I love,” Kramer said.

The training has been “phenomenal” for Kramer.

As a result of her cancer, her thyroid was removed, which leaves her with little energy by a point late in the day.

“I’ll always deal with the side effects of not having my thyroid. But the more you work out, the more energy you have, and I feel better than I have in four years," she said. “The exercise and training have been monumental in my recovery.”

Kramer started on her journey toward the San Diego hike with a surprise arm bone break while doing push-ups at the gym in December 2016. The thyroid cancer she didn’t know about had spread to her bones.

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“The worst part was the hip replacement and the radioactive iodine therapy isolation for 10 days,” Kramer said. “Both took me away from my family and friends, as well as testing my resolve to fight.”

Thinking of the Project Athena hike finish line keeps the mother of 17-year-old Maddie and 14-year-old Lauren — students at North Harford High School — focused on living and thriving.

"I especially want my girls to see their mom not quitting or giving up,“ Kramer said. “Cancer wants me to focus on having one foot in the grave. My training for this marathon has me focusing on one foot in front of the other. I may not know what the future holds, but I for now I am laser focused on a goal of completing this marathon.”

She lives with physical pain from her hip replacement and the emotional pain of battling cancer.

“This has given me something else to focus on,” Kramer said.

Her cancer is still active. She has a tumor in her arm that has been treated with radiation. It is checked every three months to make sure it’s not growing.

“I live it it,” Kramer said. “We kind of wait for it to show up somewhere else and pray it doesn’t.”

The hike

Kramer will be accompanied on her hike by nine other grant recipients, called Athenas — most of them women — “who had some sort of traumatic setback in life," she said.

One is a woman with “extreme PTSD” from a horrific, violent attack while another is a man who was an adventure racer who was diagnosed with a “bizarre cancer" and should have died.

“Each person has a different and unique story that should have taken us out,” Kramer said. “The hike gives us a goal and focus to come back.”

They set off at 5 a.m. with headlamps in the dark on their 13-hour hike, stopping every 3.5 miles for a short water and bathroom break and 30 minutes for lunch.

The hike will be along the West Coast, parts on the beach, the road, sidewalks and walking trails.

About 20 others — gods and goddesses — will walk with the Athenas, who raise money for Project Athena to provide grants for others to participate.

Kramer hopes the finish line will be a starting line and that she will become a goddess.

“It’s such a life-changing experience. The training is life-changing, but the race, you can’t not come back,” Kramer said. “You’re so entrenched in the experience you can’t stay away.”

Donations toward Kramer’s adventure can be made on the Project Athena website, www.ProjectAthena.org. All check donations must be made payable to the Project Athena Foundation and mailed to their corporate address at Project Athena Foundation, 2033 San Elijo Ave., 310 Cardiff by the Sean, CA 92007. Donations made on behalf of participants should include the participant’s name in the memo section or mentioned in an attached note.

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