Gasparilla Distance Classic: How running helped one woman detect breast cancer

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Gasparilla Distance Classic races will head down Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on February 25th and 26th.

WFLA News Channel 8 is helping you get ready to lace up your shoes and get to the starting line.

The benefits of exercise are widely known. It’s good for your heart and helps keep you fit and strong, but when Denise Fialkosky said running saved her life, she does not just mean in a general sense.

Fialkosky often runs with a group through the many trails around the Tampa Bay area. The trails offer shade and a look at the old Florida wilderness.

“When I would get home, I would check my body for bugs because Florida is famous for bugs, and I noticed one day an abnormality,” recalled Fialkosky.

That breast abnormality prompted her doctor to perform an ultrasound and mammogram. The mammogram did not detect cancer, but the ultrasound provided the dreaded diagnosis.

“I was pretty scared about it,” said Fialkosky. “Running really did save my life because it helped me find it. My mammogram didn’t.”

She took on her treatment like a runner tackles all races: one mile at a time. She chose to think about each treatment session as one mile in her journey, knowing that the finish line would eventually come.

“So at the end of the ten miles, I gave my doctors and technicians a running medal,” Fialkosky explained.

She asked three things of her friends when she told them about her diagnosis. She asked people not the cry, to send her the power of prayer, and for constant laughter.

Fialkosky will turn 61 this year, and she is two years cancer-free. Laughter remains her daily motto, and she can often be seen and heard laughing and taking selfies along the trails with her running groups.

“That’s what has made it more of a passion. I don’t always like to run, but I have fun with it. I love all the friends I’ve made. They’re family to me,” said Fialkosky. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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