Breast cancer gets personal for The Winston School in Del Mar with survivor and teacher leading Walk-a-Thon

By Karin Olsen

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and students at The Winston School in Del Mar are taking a stand to help find a cure. While it’s a national commemoration, the topic is personal for them.

In 2007, veteran Winston School teacher Linda Castile was diagnosed with breast cancer and this summer the assistant head of school Mary Sterling-Torretti announced she is battling the disease.

Cancer-free for six years, Castile is helping raise money and awareness by leading the Winston students in the school’s annual Breast Cancer Walk-a-Thon on Oct. 4. The school event this year not only kicks off Spirit Month but has also become a rally for the beloved Sterling-Torretti.

News of Sterling-Torretti’s diagnosis has personalized the illness for the students and Castile said she expects this will prompt an even larger turnout. “We generally have about two-thirds of the kids participating but expect even more this year because they know about Mary’s situation. We are hoping for 80 – 90 percent.”

Castile said the walk not only raises money, but provides an opportunity to teach about tenacity and a positive attitude. “Mary has had a round of chemo and she’ll have another in three weeks but she’s back at school and doing very well. She will be there to cheer us on. It’s important that the kids see that a cancer diagnosis is manageable for the huge majority of us. I want the girls, in particular, to realize that it’s not ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die’ but rather it’s something you have to work at and overcome just as I did and Mary is doing.”

The walk is from 9 - 10 a.m. at the school and the students get credit for each lap around the field with seven laps equaling a mile. Castile said former students Paul Vierson and Dylan Weiss hold the record of 53 laps in one hour and this year they are expecting great things from 12th grade high-speed participant Brian Strobel.

She said graduate Desiree Seng holds the record for raising the most money.

“Fundraising is down since Desiree graduated. She was a go-getter. She had friends and relatives all over the country and Canada who supported her. Over the six years she was here she raised close to $5,000.”

Castile said Seng, who now attends Cal State San Marcos, was an honorary development director and the school is anticipating that someone will step up and assume that role again.

Building on the awareness and fundraising opportunities for the school, Castile and headmaster Mike Peterson are meeting with a representative for “Making Strides,” the American Cancer Society’s walk for Breast Cancer awareness. They are hoping to organize a team of Winston students and families to participate on Oct. 20 to further show their support for Sterling-Torretti and the cause.

Castile is no stranger to cancer awareness walks. She started participating in the 3-Day Breast Cancer walks, first organized by Avon, now by the Susan G. Komen organization, as well as “Race for a Cure” 12 years ago and she hasn’t missed it since — even the year she was fighting the disease.

For 11 of those years, her daughter, Alice, walked with her and fellow Winston teacher Amy Spitler accompanied her one year, too. This year another fellow teacher Christie Talbot has stepped up for what Castile calls a sizable commitment. “It’s a lot of training, time and sore feet,” she said. “There are people who do it who are way more inspiring than I could ever be. There are people doing it who are in poor physical shape or just finishing chemotherapy and radiation to people who have lost family and friends and are walking in their honor. It’s very inspirational.”

Castile will miss the 3-Day walk Nov. 15 – 17 this year due to the birth of her daughter’s first baby but she shared insight into what it takes to participate in the endurance event.

“One year out you have to get started with a mile, then 3 miles then 5 miles and then keep up the 5-mile walks weekly all year long. By now you’re really upping the mileage to 8, 10, 12 miles.” In addition to a dedicated training schedule, Castile said she can offer two insider tips for the beginner. Buy the right shoes and wear double-layered socks. We’ve never gotten injured or had blisters on our heels.”

Castile said with all of the training she feels well and is especially mindful of what she eats in order to gain muscle and maintain good energy. “I’m 63 and I’ve changed my diet to eat more fish and eat less fat and red meat. At my age I would probably make those changes anyway, but breast cancer scares you so you become a bit more diligent in following a better diet.”

Health and stamina are also helpful in keeping up with her full teaching schedule. This year marks Castile’s 16th year at Winston and she’s teaching 7th and 8th grade world history, 11th grade U.S. history, and senior government and economics.

If you’re interested in helping the school raise money for the walk-a-thon or if you wish to support Castile in the San Diego events, please send a check made out to Susan G. Komen to The Winston School, Attention: Linda Castile, 215 9th St., Del Mar, CA 92014.

A group of pediatricians and parents in San Diego founded The Winston School ( in 1988 for bright children whose needs were not being met in traditional school settings. The school is the only college preparatory school in San Diego County that provides education to an equal mix of privately enrolled and publicly funded students placed by the school district. Students such as those struggling with autism, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, specific learning disabilities or learning disorders, nonverbal learning disorders and slow maturation find what they need in the school’s small, safe and caring environment. By incorporating small classes, multi-sensory teaching methods and individual attention, the school’s faculty works together to help students fulfill their academic, physical, artistic, social and emotional potential. For more information contact the school at 858-259-8155.