By Amanda Wolkin

“My husband is going to faint when I come home,” said 76-year-old Mary Tewell of Brookhaven, proudly donning her first-place medal. “He didn’t believe I could even finish the race.”

Tewell, along with about 150 of her closest friends, up from 68 the previous year, won her age group in the Fall Back 5K road race on Nov. 1 to support the Wellness Community (TWC) Atlanta-Northside. The event at the Concourse Athletic Club also hosted a one-mile walk and Tot Trot for children.

“It’s been a beautiful day—miraculously, since it rained all week—with a beautiful course, beautiful people, and a beautiful cause,” said race participant Gayle Christian of Buckhead. “You can’t get any better than that.”

Runners and walkers had the option of racing individually, starting a team, running as a family or just making an online contribution to go to a good cause. The Fall Back 5K raised nearly $16,000 for the Wellness Community.

While some came to the race for exercise and others for the free Sweet Tomatoes cookies, all joined together at the finish line to honor those affected by cancer and celebrate TWC Atlanta-Northside, which had 12,500 visits last year. This nation-wide organization offers classes, events, activities and, most importantly, support, for struggling cancer patients, their caregivers and their families, free of charge. Locally, TWC events are coordinated through Northside Hospital.

‘Opportunity to live’

For Tewell, walking the three miles was nothing in comparison to her former co-worker Lynne Jackson’s struggle with breast cancer over a decade ago. At the race, cancer-free Jackson was joined by Tewell and four other former UPS employees to support the organization that brings help to others.

“I’m here for Lynne,” said Tewell. “I’m here because I have a keen interest in people. I’ll do whatever I can to honor those who have been through what Lynne went through. I like people and I like life, and everyone deserves the opportunity to live.”

The Wellness Community’s goal is to provide everyone, regardless of the stage of the disease, with that sacred opportunity.

According to its Web site, TWC “helps people affected by cancer learn vital skills that enable them to regain control, reduce isolation and restore hope” through professionally led support groups, educational workshops and mind and body classes. Popular courses offered include walking groups, “wellness workouts,” nutritionist sessions and “kids’ circles” for children 5-12 years old who have a parent or grandparent with cancer.

“The classes we offer are completely unique to The Wellness Community,” said Executive Director Christy Chappelear Andrews. “You can’t go to a gym weight class and find the support you do here. Everything is geared towards people affected by cancer.”

TWC Atlanta-Northside is affiliated both with Northside Hospital, which, according to Andrews, “goes so far beyond the call of duty by their affiliation with us; they really, really believe in supporting patients throughout their entire treatment,’ and TWC’s national organization, which as of Nov. 7 at a Cancer Summit Conference in Washington, D.C., joined with Gilda’s Club Worldwide to form the Cancer Support Community. The Community will be the single largest organization in the world that offers these services.

Sense of community

The expansion of the program will not, however, alter TWC Atlanta-Northside’s goal to provide a “home-like setting” for all those affected by cancer. While there are only two full-time employees, all volunteers and part-time licensed instructors and professionals are passionate about bringing a sense of community and hope to those who have nearly lost it all.

“My mother had breast cancer 12 years ago, and I felt completely lost the entire time,” said Sandy Bramlett, both a runner at the Fall Back 5K and the Chi Walking and Zumba Instructor at TWC Atlanta-Northside. “After she passed, I started working [with TWC]. That was 12 years ago, and I find work more and more gratifying every day.”

Andrews, who grew up in the Sandy Springs area hearing about the community and began working there in 2006, finds a similar fulfillment in her job.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think when I leave work, ‘Wow, that person really needed us. We really helped them.’”

To donate to TWC-Atlanta Northside or join the volunteering Dream Team, visit http://www.thewellnesscommunity-atlanta.org or call 404-843-1880.