Aug. 11, 2017

Danica Winkley: Running to Honor Her Sister


Danica Winkley finished the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on June 18 as a tribute to her 21-year-old sister, Erica Winkley, who died of lupus in November 2016. Erica’s girlfriend, Ashley Starke, also ran in honor of Erica as part of Team Make Your Mark™.

Danica raised funds and ran with the goal of raising awareness for lupus, since her family was not aware of the disease until her sister's diagnosis.

Erica spent most of her young life in and out of hospitals as doctors tried to diagnosis her illness. In October 2016, Erica suffered severe chest pain from an infection and the next month, she went into cardiac arrest and was put on life support. She was taken off of life support on November 25, shortly after being diagnosed with lupus.

When her family was told that she had lupus, they realized the importance of raising awareness and educating people so that they can recognize the signs and symptoms earlier and prevent serious health complications.

“It was devastating to know that my sister had lupus and we never even knew about the disease. So much of her pain and suffering could have been prevented if we had been aware of the signs and symptoms of lupus,” said Danica.

The opportunity to get involved in the community through training and racing in the recent Half Marathon became part of the healing process for Danica and Ashley, who were not runners before training started. In fact, Danica had never run more than five miles. She describes the experience as ‘emotionally staggering’ to be able to run for people who cannot participate. Danica felt her sister’s presence with her the day of the race, and said that she could not have gotten through the experience without thinking of her all day.

“Erica was fiery and feisty, she was one of the greatest people I have ever known – She was truly one of a kind and life feels very empty without her,” said Danica.

The race also gave Danica and Ashley an opportunity to feel truly connected to the lupus community. They realized that they were not alone, participating with several other people who have been devastated by the disease. Team Make Your Mark Coach Dan Walmer served as a source of inspiration to fight hard by being transparent with his journey as a runner who has lupus and refuses to let the disease take over his life.

Danica’s hope is to build a bigger team for next year’s race and continue running, fundraising and raising awareness for lupus in her sister’s memory.

“Nothing compares to crossing that finish line thinking about my sister Erica."  

"I was so triumphant and proud to give back and be a part of this great community of people who understand my journey,” said Danica.

To learn more about the program and sign up to participate in a future race, please visit https://www.lupus.org/action/join-team-make-your-mark.