For those of you who follow me on Twitter, are friends with me on Facebook, read this blog, or are a part of the ridiculous amounts of social networks I belong to, you know I have spent months preparing for the Breast Cancer 3 Day Walk with my Mom in Cleveland. I completed the walk yesterday and I have to say it was a life-changing thing; truly the most amazing thing I have ever done.
The weekend started at Thistledown Racetrack. You enter into a huge parking lot with hundreds of other people (walkers, volunteer crew members, and family and supporters who are there to send off their walkers). It's overwhelming. All of those people are there for one common goal: To help find the cure for Breast Cancer. And then it hits you...
I'm about to walk 60 miles in 3 days.
The mood was definitely festive. Lots of people in crazy costumes and what would otherwise be considered "racy" t-shirts that say things like "Save the Ta-Tas," "The Young and the Breastless" and "Team For-a-Breast." In any other situation, this may be considered offensive. But is in this type of atmosphere, it doesn't matter.
We set off at 7 am and we were met with my first stand-out moment of the weekend. We walked past a hospital where doctors and nurses were cheering us on outside. There was one patient there, in a hospital gown and wheelchair. A man stood next to her (I assumed it was her husband) and he had his hand on her shoulder. She was weeping. I have a feeling she was being treated for breast cancer. We walked on.
The first day was good for me. My mom who walked with me (she is a 7 year survivor) had a rough first day. She got what is called "road rash." I always thought that this was an injury you got from falling on the ground. But her legs were beet red, she was dehydrated, and her shins were roaring with pain. I wondered if she would get up and do it the next day.
The first day,we walked 19.8 miles from Thistledown to Cuyahoga County Airport. It took us 8 1/2 hours. There are stops all along the way (roughly every 3 miles) where you can grab water, snacks with salt, and bandages. They also had a lunch for us around 9.5 miles into the walk. The crew was awesome. They dressed up (men and women alike) in bras, festive costumes, and downright outrageous gear. Some of our personal favorites were the Breast Fairy, a guy who was volunteering in a tiara, tutu, and pink nail polish as part of the Saftey Crew. He rode on his bike from stop to stop to make sure we were all okay (along with 20 or 30 other crew members that dressed as pirates, Winnie the Pooh, and Minnie Mouse).
Their job was to make sure we didn't get lost and they would stop traffic when we had to cross the street. We walked on sidewalks, pathways, and sometimes on the street. No roads were closed for our walk. Drivers went past honking madly and we walked through many neighborhoods where residents set up tables in their front yard and handed out candy and water and cheered us on. The whole thing was moving.
We reached camp around 3:30 in the afternoon. We gathered our gear and set up our tent with the help of the wonderful volunteers. We showered in a semi (yes, you read that correctly) and it was the absolute BEST shower I have ever had in my life. We laid around, nursing our sore feet and drinking coffee that was provided to us. Dinner was a spaghetti dinner that was delicious (it was really quite a spread) and we just spent time meeting other walkers.
Camp was awesome.
The rows of pink tents was a site to see. They also had a tent decorating contest. Mom and I didn't participate in it, but next time I definitely will (and yes, there will be a next time)! Some were more fun, some were very moving.
The next morning, I brought coffee to my mom early (we were up at 5 am to do it again) wondering if she was going to be willing to do it again. Within less than 2 hours, we were starting with the first group to hit the road again. Another 19.8 miles that brought us back to the airport and the glorious camp that was our home away from home.
Both Friday and Saturday were extremely hot, with temps hitting the low 90s. Many walkers passed out from dehydration and heat exhaustion. Mom and I were diligent about drinking lots of water and Gatorade and dunking our bandannas in ice water to wear on our heads or around our necks at the Pit Stops.
The second day was toughest for me. I had lots of blisters by the time I reached camp. But it was the little moments that kept us going like the man who was on a run and went past us saying "Thank you for walking, my wife is a survivor." That made it worth it.
Another person who kept us going was the young man we all affectionately referred to as "Woo Hoo Man." He had a five foot cut out sign that said "Woo Hoo" and as a group of walkers would approach he would throw his head back and cry out "Woo Hoo!" as loud as he could. He was there all three days and he would drive ahead of us every couple of miles, set up camp, and cheer for us all day long. It was awesome.
There were other "cheerleaders" as well including the guy we saw every couple of miles who would just scream and cheer for us saying "Looking good!" and "You've got that bounce back!" He was hoarse by Sunday morning. And big thanks to the "Kid Crew" that greeted us each day in the last mile or so to go with snacks, water, stickers, and cheers. A dad and his three kids were there every day. Amazing.
The third day, I had serious doubts about finishing. My feet and whole body ached. So, mom and I came up with a "let's just do a Pit Stop at a time" strategy and it worked. We walked though Little Italy, Case Western Reserve University, and other very cool part of Cleveland. We walked the last few miles along Lake Erie with the Cleveland skyline and Cleveland Browns stadium looming in front of us. Downtown Cleveland never looked so good. We crossed the street and headed to the Convention Center where we finished. They directed us into the Center where the walkers that had finished before us (we were in the top 300) and volunteer crew members lined up to give us high-fives as we walked past. The roar that erupted as we walked along was completely overwhelming. I'm crying just thinking about it. They know what we had just accomplished. We had just walked 60 miles, even when we genuinely thought we couldn't walk anymore.
The final piece was cheering in the volunteers, who were just as overwhelmed by the reception as we had all been. Some of our cheerleaders (including Woo Hoo Man) were invited to walk the gauntlet and we screamed our appreciation. We all had our white or pink (for survivors) shirts on and the final walk was an arm-in-arm march into a neighboring exhibit hall in the convention center where 2,000 family members and supporters cheered us in. We had a beautiful closing ceremony (along with a one shoe salute to the survivors as they marched in separately) that had us all in tears.
I am still overwhelmed. I am sad that the environment of the 3 Day is gone for now (although grateful that the walk is done). I am humbled by the reception that we received every step of the way. I am proud of the fact that I actually finished and walked every step of the 60 miles. I am thrilled that my mom joined me. And I am planning on doing it again.
If you ever have the chance to do this event, please do it. Not only will you be helping to save lives, you will do something that you probably never thought possible. You will make friends you otherwise would not have met. You will be awe-struck by everyone around it. Be sure to do the training!
I had lots of lessons learned that I will be taking with me along the way. And I will definitely be back to do it again.