Many of my fellow co-workers heard the word AMAZING several times this past week as I described to them my experience. There's just no other adjective that quite captures all of the stories, events and moments that I shared with my fellow walkers.
Jerry drove me and Mary Lou (friend, fellow walker and 5-year breast cancer survivor) to the opening ceremonies in Gilbert about 30 miles away on Friday, Nov. 14th. The weekend started early as we were up at 4:45 AM and lined up to drop off our bags with the Gear and Tent Crew once we arrived at the site.
Jerry was on his own wandering around, taking photos amongst the expectant crowd -- some huddled and covered in snow hats and gloves to shield themselves from the 50 degree cold Arizona dawn. I proceeded to take my place behind the stage along with 12 other flag bearers. A month ago, I received a call from Maggie, the Field Coordinator for the 2008 AZ Breast Cancer 3-Day asking me if I would be willing to carry one of the opening ceremony flags. After a brief moment of stunned silence, I was able to manage to answer "of course ... it would be my honor!"
It all began on Friday morning, as the sun rose over Freestone Park in Gilbert. The ceremony started at 7:00 am with a moving tribute to the survivors and our reason for walking and creating awareness. We enjoyed the Islands of Gilbert, beautiful scenery, and numerous water features. The community welcomed us with open arms, including school children who cheered along the route. The entire weekend was full of emotional highs and lows -- one minute we are laughing and giggling at a spectator's outfit and the next mile, we are shedding tears reading stories about the death of a beloved family member. Many walkers were walking memorials for those they have lost to breast cancer and others were walking with hope that their families would be not touched by breast cancer. After our walk on Friday, we settled into camp at Benedict Park in Tempe, where we were entertained by the Sun City Poms and the ASU Dancing Devils.
There were 2,800 walkers (300 of them being men). There were thousands of individuals that cheered us on all 3 days on the streets and sidewalks, including Jerry and Randy who came to visited us from Chicago. The two of them had no idea how crazy the whole weekend was going to be! Walking down the street you would have families and looking for a high five, telling us “Thank you for walking.” The walkers in turn tell the spectators thank you for cheering us on and hanging out in the heat. There were Walker Stalkers who drove up and down the streets honking their horns, blasting uptempo music and had their vehicles decorated. I have never seen so many bras hanging out of a vehicle at one time. On Saturday, we walked through the community of Guadalupe, the foothills of Ahwatukee, South Mountain Park and parts of Phoenix.
Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, young ones and the once young stood by the sidewalk and passed out candy, food, water, aspirin, gum, bracelets, popsicles and stickers as we walked by. It was so much fun reading the various home-grown and very creative posters that lined up the streets. The miles just melted away as me and my friends who walked alongside me high fived our way to the finish line. Our team won the tent decorating contest and had bragging rights throughout the weekend. Other walkers came and took photos of our decor -- completely ignoring that we (the residents) may be sleeping inside the tents!
Highlights of Sunday's route included walking through Papago Park, Desert Botanical Garden, Arizona State University, and Old Town Scottsdale. The final victory walk took us into Scottsdale Stadium for a celebratory Closing Ceremony. I am most proud to have crossed the finish line with Mary Lou who I made a promise to that I would get her to that finish line even if I had to carry her on my back. She had been out every weekend in training with me since April and never complained or whined about anything. There was no doubt in my mind she would finish the walk and do well. I also walked with Marliena who lost her mother to breast cancer years ago and with another friend, Maia.
The training paid off -- I had no blisters, minor toe pain and only minor body ache. Who wouldn't after walking 60 miles? These were nothing compared to what a chemotherapy patient goes through or the challenge of being faced with a cancer diagnosis. I was moved and touched by the camaraderie of strangers and the community that developed out of a small park full of pink tents. We cheered for each other -- fellow walkers, the awesome crew who were the last to go to sleep and first to wake up and the strangers by the sidewalk.
It was one unforgettable weekend. I walked 60 miles and have now caught the addiction. Now I understand why there were men and women who have done this 7 times or more or why "Pink Beard Barry" walks all 14 events in various states. Jerry has caught the bug as well. We have both signed up to Crew the 2009 AZ Breast Cancer 3-day. I am already looking forward to another great event!
Thank you to all my training walk peers for allowing me to share this experience with you, and thank you to all who helped me raise over $3,200 to be able to participate in this event that I will never forget.
Check out my entire photo album from the 2008 Breast Cancer 3-Day at share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=0EYtG7hm4ZsXJQ
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As the Captain of the AZ Pink Rattlers, I want extend my most heartfelt thanks to all of our donors, friends and families for their support throughout this journey. The entire weekend exceeded my expectations and will forever continue to be one of the most cherished moments of my life. I realize that it is through your generosity and kindness that I was able to join thousands of other men and women and raise more than 5.2 million dollars to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research, treatment and education.