When Heather Alberts was 40 years old, her husband, David S. Alberts, MD, Director of The University of Arizona Cancer Center, told her, “Your body is falling apart and you need to reactivate the physical part of your life.” Heather was none too pleased as Dave brought sneakers from her closet, tied them on her feet and led her by the hand out their front door.
Her annoyance quickly turned to surprise as she realized just how out of shape she was. She had never smoked, was always a healthy eater and had been very active in her youth. But 20 years of inactivity had taken its toll. She could not even run to the end of their ¼-mile driveway. However, this disappointing jog motivated Heather to reclaim her fitness, and it wasn’t long before the many rewards of being active and the beauty of the outdoors made her daily jogs a special part of her life.
In 1999, at the age of 59, Heather “gently jogged” her first half marathon and found it exhilarating! She felt that if she could accomplish this, then anyone could. In August of 2000, eager to share her love of exercise and to get her husband's colleagues at the Arizona Cancer Center walking the talk of cancer prevention, Heather proposed a half marathon training program which would also raise funds for research. The Arizona Cancer Center’s event coordinator was assigned to this pilot program and, with only 3 weeks until training was to begin, she and Heather put together the nuts and bolts of the first Better Than Ever program and recruited 45 team members, most of whom considered themselves non-athletes. Three months later, these women and men crossed the finish line of the Tucson Half Marathon, having gained better health and greater self confidence along the way.
Better Than Ever experienced extraordinary growth in 2001 with 500 members joining, many of whom walked or ran in memory of Bobbi Olson, the beloved wife of former UA basketball coach, Lute. Just months earlier, Bobbi had lost her battle with ovarian cancer. Participating in Better Than Ever was a way for Tucsonans to pay tribute to this beloved member of the community, as well as to practice cancer prevention on a personal level.
Nine years after it all began, more than 2,600 people have taken part in the Better Than Ever program and, in addition to the half marathon training, it has grown to include a 10K run or walk and a cycling training program. Heather continues to be dedicated to BTE because of the difference it has made in the lives of the participants. She is greatly satisfied that participants experience empowerment and health from their increased fitness and the fulfillment of helping to save lives.