Where It Began – Lisa Bragaw
As the Terri Brodeur Foundation celebrates its milestones, we are taking a look back and talking with those who helped get the foundation started and who have continued to support its mission over the years of raising money and designating every dollar donated toward breast cancer research. This year marks the 15th anniversary of TBBCF, which was established in February 2006. We held our first walking marathon fundraiser in October 2006 and this year we are celebrating our 16th walk.
A walk, a friendship, a commitment to a cause
By KATHLEEN EDGECOMB
When Lisa Bragaw heard there was a surprise at the end of a walking marathon training session around the Mystic River 17 years ago, she thought there was going to be donuts.
She was training for a three-day marathon from New Hampshire to Boston to raise money for breast cancer. And although she had a friend in the group, she had never met the woman who organized and rallied them all to walk in the marathon – Norma Logan.
“I kept thinking the surprise was donuts. Who doesn’t like donuts?” Bragaw said during a recent interview at her yoga studio in Niantic called Zen and Now. “I was looking forward to donuts and I got Norma. Norma was better.”
At the end of the third loop around the river, Norma Logan, who was battling breast cancer, showed up to support her friends who were supporting her. Bragaw got a smile and a hug from Logan – and made a new friend.
“Norma always, always made everyone feel like they were the most important person in the room,” Bragaw said. “She made me feel like we had been the best of friends forever.”
The women completed the three-day walk, and Bragaw said one of her happiest memories was hearing Logan, her husband and her sister giggling in the tent they shared during the overnight stops.
The group raised around $200,000 for breast cancer, but when Logan discovered that about $80,000 of the donations they collected went to overhead costs, she decided to create her own non-profit. Named after her friend Terri Brodeur, who died in 2005 from breast cancer, the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation would give 100 percent of donated dollars to breast cancer research. The organization, co-founded with Sandy Maniscalco, would be run with volunteers, in-kind services, donations and sponsorships.
In 2006, Logan called her friends to her living room and told them of her plans. They would host an annual walking marathon from Old Saybrook to Waterford and every dollar raised would go to research. She gave each one an assignment. There was no refusing her, Bragaw said.
“She rocked it that day,” Bragaw said, recalling that despite Logan’s failing health, she gave a PowerPoint presentation and convinced everyone in the room to help. To date, nearly all the members of that group are still involved with the foundation, which has awarded $5.2 million in the form of grants to researchers and clinicians.
“Norma didn’t want to raise awareness, she wanted a cure,” Bragaw said.
For the first Terri Brodeur walk, Bragaw helped with organizing the walkers, but the second year, she said she wanted to walk herself. Logan died before the first walk, but her determination to start the foundation despite her own health battles, inspired Bragaw to do more. Every year since, except for 2021, she and her husband Joe have walked the full marathon. In 2021 they walked the half-marathon distance. Each year she also arranges for use of tables and chairs for opening and closing ceremonies and for the various pit stops along the way. Her team raised more than $4,000 this year. Bragaw, who is also a pharmacist, was chairwoman of the board of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association when it donated $500 to the foundation.
It’s important to her to walk the full marathon because it is hard to do. She said she finds comfort in the discomfort.
“We can always do more than we think we can,” she said. “And it’s easier than going through chemo. What’s a couple of blisters compared to losing your hair?”
She’d like to see even more people participate in the walk and keep raising more and more money for research.
She is also seeing younger people get involved with the foundation and fundraising. Those who were young 15 years ago, including Terri Brodeur’s three children, are now young adults who participate every year in the annual walk and volunteer.
“They are amazing,” she said.
Bragaw said her mission is to support Norma’s vision – raise as much money as possible and funnel it all to research.
“Norma was like a lighthouse,” Bragaw said. She shone a light on what needed to be done and pointed the way. “We lost Norma but millions of others are benefiting from her vision.”