Susan G Komen 3-Day 60 Mile Walk
After seeing a commercial on the Hallmark Channel, I personally committed to raise money and do a walk for breast cancer research. Like most men, I was pretty naive about the disease until a friend of mine was diagnosed with it. This disease, that seemed so distant, was now staring me in the face through this friend.
The commercial was sponsored by Breast Cancer 3-Day benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. In my book I often quoted a 12-Step program that states “half measures avail us nothing.” Without them saying so, 3-Day seemed to follow the same principle. The program they sponsor was not the traditional walk/run with each participant raising a few dollars through their entry fee. To become part of their 3-Day walk, one would have to commit to raising a minimum of $2200 and to walk 60 miles in just three days! As I said, they do not believe in “half measures.”
In a time when most of us are already committed to many nonprofits via our donations, finding donors who have extra money is difficult. If that isn’t enough, I knew that if this 58-year old body was going to walk 60 miles in 3 days it was going to have to prepare by walking, walking, and walking.
20 miles in one day is one thing, but coming back and walking another 20 miles on day 2, and again on day 3 was altogether different. To do so I was going to have to go deeper within myself than I had ever gone before. There could be no “half-measures.”
With shorter walks during the week, I saved the long walks for the weekends, often heading out the door before sunup. Sometimes I walked on the hillside trails in the mountains near my California home. Other times I went down the hill and walked in the flatlands.
I’ll never forget the 5AM trip out my front door only to come face-to-face with a startled skunk! Other times I had to be extra cautious because of a mountain lion that had been seen stalking my mountain route. I can’t begin to count the number of rattlesnakes I saw during the heat of the summer.
I now realize that the daily commitment was part of their plan to help in the personal transition that was taking place. So after a thousand miles of training I headed off to Phoenix, Arizona, to face the final part of this journey, a 60-mile walk in 3 days.
The day before the event I spent some time with the high school friend who had just finished chemotherapy and radiation. Her wig did its best to hide the battle scars of the disease she was conquering.
I also spent time with my son, his wife, and my two grandchildren. If only I could borrow some of the children’s energy, I thought! Later in the weekend I wondered if my one-year old granddaughter would understand what breast cancer was as she got older, or would only know of it by reading about it in a history book.
The alarm sounded. It was 4:30AM. Arising at that hour was not unusual, but what lay ahead was. Having no idea how many participants, I was clueless as what to expect. Realistically, how many people would one expect to commit to their excessive parameters? Not many, I suspected.
After a 20-minute freeway drive, the surface streets became more populated as I funneled with others also being guided by their map to this same location.
There was the sign! I turned in and the first words that came to mind were, “Oh my God!” From the elevated entrance, and for as far as the eye could see, I could see an endless snake of cars looking as if they were connected together. In the darkness of night, the only things visible were the thousands of headlights as if they were refilming the closing scene of the movie “A Field of Dreams.”
The organizational aspects of managing so many people arriving at the same spot at the same moment were incredible. Later in the weekend I told some people that I felt this organization, after their final walk, should be moved to Washington, DC, to start managing the Federal government!
Previous participants told me that this weekend would change my life and I often thought about those words as I trained. I have run countless 5Ks, 10Ks, and even marathons. Each, in its own way, had some effect on me, but never life-changing. So, could walking 60 miles do that?
Still dark, with many shivering due to the early morning Arizona cold, we were gathered into a fenced area resembling a horse corral. Family and friends surrounded the perimeter as if to protect them from our somewhat insane way of spending a weekend.
And then it started. With gentle music, similar to what we create at Serenity, all of us were guided through a variety of stretches that would keep many of us away from the medical tent. Crackle, creak, click, as if each aged joint responded with a, “What are you doing to me at this early hour?”
After a few microphone introductions another step of the transition was implanted into our minds:
“This is what we are in the presence of this morning as you prepare to embark on the journey that is Breast Cancer 3-Day…
“You have not come here casually to make small changes…You have trained and fundraised with all your hearts and are about to walk 60 miles, with all the power in your bodies, to make one giant change.
“You are not walking to the corner to pick up the newspaper. You are walking to a thousand corners to make news.
“The next three days will be a beautiful thing. Not because of the scenery, or the fabulous cuisine…But because of you.
“For now, look around you. You will see people from all walks of life who have come together to beat breast cancer.
“For the next three days, as a living, breathing unit, you will convey hope three days closer to a cure.
“History books will say: Lives were spared because you cared, pain was relieved because you believed.
“People who are diagnosed tomorrow, next month, or next year, will have less fear…because you are here. Beating breast cancer together…Now that’s beautiful.”
By this time everyone, bodies hardened by their training, had tears rolling down their cheeks. Within moments a small group of women formed a Survivor’s Circle in remembrance of those who have died due to breast cancer, and then started the walk. Each of us, over 2200 in all, were now funneled out of our holding pen and pointed toward a human path made up of family and friends. As we passed through this makeshift tunnel, we were treated as heroes heading off to war. In a sense, I guess we were heading off to battle against an invisible enemy that had too often robbed our loved ones from us.
As I walked up the small incline exiting the park, I looked ahead and behind. The chain of walkers was already stretched as far as the eye could see. In reverse, people continued to stream out of the corral where we first started.
By the time the last walkers hit the trail, the first walkers were at least a mile down the road. And that is the way it was for the next three days as we criss-crossed Phoenix area neighborhoods and towns bringing awareness to all who saw.
Seldom did more than a few seconds pass between supportive horns from passing cars. Cheering stations dotted the route where people congregated to show their appreciation. They didn’t just cheer, greeting us with candy, popsicles, water, frozen towels for our necks, stickers for our badges, signs, signs, and signs.
As we walked by schools, “forward thinking” teachers had their classes at the street introducing their young students to their vocabulary words of the day, commitment and breast cancer. I wondered how this moment might change their view of life. I heard myself often say to them, “This is so you never have to do this.”
Buried in all of the seriousness were also bits of humor. Without it no one could ever make it through such an emotional event. Shirts had many different slogans expressing the same thing: “I walk for boobs” or “I walk for my wife’s boobs.” I even stopped to have my picture taken with a group of “adult” cheerleaders whose tight sweaters spelled out “B” “O” “O” “B” “S.” Did I say that of the 2200 walkers, only 7.7% were men? Yes, I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
Much of the street safety was provided by tough-looking, tattooed Harley Davidson riders. In spite of their beards and tough exteriors, most wore pink motorcycle helmets.
As I reflect, I will never forget the cheering blind man, or the tall volunteer with clown-like decorations attached to his shoes. Later I was told that his wife died last year: yes, of breast cancer. How could I ever forget the woman with a military teddy bear and picture of a military man on her back? As we walked together, she told me of his daily calls from Iraq coaxing her through her chemo and radiation treatments when she would have rather given up. She said that she now walks for his memory because he was later killed.
Another man wore a shirt that said, “I walk because I am a co-survivor.” How right he was. Breast cancer does not only touch the one person. Every family member and friend are deeply touched by the disease.
Every chance meeting along the route soon turned into anything but chance as stories were exchanged. As all of us huffed and puffed we shared answers to the most asked question, “Are you walking for someone?” I always responded with a “Yes. I walk because I have a mom, sisters, sister and daughter-in-laws, and female friends.”
As we skirted Arizona State University we met other walkers who were supporting diabetes. They were going one way as we were going the other. And in the same moment I knew that they, like us, were supporting a need and each walker, whether walking for diabetes or breast cancer, was providing a form of help in finding a solution. As I often said in my book, “Each of us has a gift to give. Each of us just needs to step out and offer it.”
At the end of the first day, after 20 miles, 85 degrees, and cement sidewalks, nothing felt better than sitting in the shade without the shoes that no longer felt very comfortable. Quickly the body started to revive. If not, none of us could have made it through day 2 or day 3.
In the same moment, I can only imagine what it might be like for the chemo patient. Every moment of every day their bodies are being invaded by man-made chemicals that were designed to kill the enemy cancer cells that are intent upon killing the body they lived in.
Did I mention that at the end of the day we were not transported to a luxury Phoenix hotel? We walked, instead, to our 6 x 6 tent that became our home, many with a roommate, for the three days.
Along with meals starting at 5AM, we were treated to different forms of evening entertainment, along with motivational words from many of the survivors. Two young mothers, diagnosed while pregnant, were accompanied by their children who, in their own way had become survivors of breast cancer as well.
As time marched on more and more of the walkers limped with bandages on blistered sores. It looked as if the compound had been afflicted with an epidemic of arthritic feet. By morning of the third day most people were lucky to get their swollen and blistered feet into their shoes. I felt like my shoes had been replaced with cement blocks, with every step a painful experience.
During the three days I came to realize that as we were being pushed to a limit, a mirror was being held up to us. By looking we could experience the pain and struggle of those facing breast cancer. We, like the patient, had no choice but to put one foot in front of the other if we were to make it through the day.
The miles counted down and the completion point, downtown Phoenix, started to gain a form of visual focus. A few more miles, a few more turns. A few more street corners where I watched my hands often reach down to help lift my legs onto the curb.
A finish line! Finally a finish line! Again a human tunnel surrounded by supporting family and friends. And for the next three hours walkers continued to cross the finish line with an inspired cheering crowd there to greet us. Many broke down after finishing because of the physical and emotional limits their bodies had been asked to reach.
As each of us finished we were ushered to a tent to receive a closing ceremony shirt that was color coded for walker, volunteer, and survivors who were either a volunteer or walker.
If the “opening ceremony” was spiritually energized, the “closing ceremony” emphasized the power of hope. Separated by our color-coded shirts, the walkers were ushered in rows 10 people wide. Behind us were the 350 volunteers, yes 350, leaving the middle open for the entrance of the true heroes: the survivors of breast cancer carrying a blank flag representing a vision of a world without breast cancer. As the survivors entered, each of the walkers removed one of their tennis shoes holding it above their head to represent a willingness to walk any length and leave an “invisible footprint for the future to follow.”
After the speaker shared thoughts of our returning home to a real bed and a world without port-a-potties and blisters, she then talked of the small group of women again forming a Survivor’s Circle as a memory for those who have lost their breast cancer fight. She talked of a world without chemotherapy, radiation, and mastectomies. She talked of a world that would not lose 410,000 people each year to the disease.
She also talked of our group’s commitment made three days earlier in which we promised “to go, and keep on going, for as long as it takes.” Did we find a solution? No, but our group of 2200 was able to commit $5.2 million to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. We know we aren’t there yet, but we are one step, or should I say, 60 miles closer.
I decided I would wait a week before putting pencil to paper to see if the earlier statement about “life-changing” would be accurate. Would my world be changed? Would the way I view life be altered? Would I look at people differently?
To date I cannot put together the correct words to those questions other than to say, “Yes.” Something has changed and so has everything that has followed that weekend. Sometimes a spiritual transformation just can’t be put into words because it “just is.”
Would I recommend this type of weekend to you the reader? Yes, but only if you are a person of commitment. Yes, but only if you are willing to put yourself at a level of pain that sometimes is overwhelming. And most importantly, yes, but only if you want to make a difference.
As the day concluded, I followed a woman who had these words on the back of her shirt, “One cause, 3 days, 60 miles, hundreds of corners, thousands of people, changing millions of lives.”
When I was back at work, one of my customers called and asked if I had had a good weekend. I simply responded with these words, “Yes, I did.”