Tami Wilkinson and her family had been in the Treasure Valley for only about 6 months when she got her diagnosis.
Stage 2b breast cancer.
Wilkinson and her husband, Brian, had moved here in August 2014. He landed a job as director of football operations at Boise State University, and Tami started as an athletic instructor at Rocky Mountain High School.
She made friends fast with co-workers and got along easily with her students.
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So when she told co-worker Krista Fritz, another athletic instructor at Rocky Mountain, about her diagnosis on Jan. 30, they cried together and hugged.
“My mom had recently passed away from breast cancer, so it kind of hit home when I found out,” Fritz said.
Wilkinson’s family rallied. Her boys, 11-year-old Bryce and 9-year-old Tyler, had a head-shaving party. Her parents flew out and hunkered down to help.
Wilkinson has a steady voice when speaking about her diagnosis and work. But she sheds tears when she spoke about her family.
“(My sons are) doing good. They’ve been rock stars,” she said. “And my husband has been amazing.”
But it was still a lot to handle.
Wilkinson was only 40 when she got the diagnosis, and she would need a partial mastectomy, a hysterectomy, and rounds of both chemotherapy and radiation.
The prospect was daunting. The Wilkinsons were new to the community — they weren’t quite sure if they had established the support system they needed and knew they were up against hefty medical bills.
Her co-workers wanted to help.
“We wanted to find out what we could do that could make a big impact on (Wilkinson) and also the community,” Fritz said.
Fritz and the two other athletic instructors, Jake Taylor and Todd Roberts, wanted to put a spin on the conventional marathon approach to charity. Rocky Mountain is an athletics-oriented school and is proud of a particularly grueling exercise that students there excel at.
“We’re the school who does the most burpees in the state,” Fritz said.
Burpees are an exercise (or ordeal) where you start in the standing position, drop into a squat, launch into a push-up position, hoist yourself back to a squat and straighten yourself back up to a standing position. Then you repeat.
“It’s just a full-body movement,” Wilkinson said.
So when it came down to planning the event, the athletics team decided to run a marathon called Burpees for Wilky (the nickname students fondly affixed to Wilkinson).
On April 14, about 900 students turned out with pledges for the burpee-a-thon and raised about $13,000.
“It was overwhelming, for sure. And it was really cool to see students that I knew and people that I didn’t know,” she said. “I got lots of hugs.”
Fritz was proud of the Grizzlies who came out. Rocky Mountain has a student body of about 2,300.
“She cried and (it was) super emotional, but it was an awesome event,” Fritz said. “Everybody is going to know somebody eventually who is affected by cancer.”
The money raised has helped with medical bills and all the time Wilkinson has had to take off work for treatments.
But more than the money, the show of support has affected her, she said.
“For the short time I’ve been there, it feels like I’ve been there a long time,” she said. “It feels like family. I think Rocky is a special place.”
Wilkinson’s last radiation treatment was Sept. 25. The surgeries and chemotherapy are behind her. Now she’s focused on her checkups and recovery.
And she looks forward to work — helping the students who have helped her.
Channel 6, KIVI, reported on the event and interviewed students who supported Wilkinson.