I just took the most important walk of my life.
The Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure proved to be just that for the more than 1,500 Bay Area participants who walked 60 miles last weekend. For many this was a walk in honor of a wife, a sister, an aunt or a friend who has struggled with breast cancer, continues a courageous fight with cancer or ultimately lost their battle with the disease. For others, it was an opportunity to immerse themselves in a worthy cause and stretch their body’s limitations. People from around the Bay Area and the world participated in the event, which raised more than $3.9 million. The seven of us — Katie Conlan, Amy Jensen, Jennifer Lezcano, Vivian Ma, Leslie Shafton, Ally Thorndike, and I (all mothers from Parkmead Elementary School in Walnut Creek), came together in the early spring, hoping to not only contribute to this amazing organization, but to share in an incredible experience as friends. For us, the aptly named Rack Pack, our lives will never be the same.
The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure is a 60-mile walk for women and men who are committed to making a difference in the fight to end breast cancer. In order to participate, each of our team members had to raise $2,300. Our team, The Rack Pack, raised almost $20,000 to support breast cancer research. Since its inception in 2003, the Komen 3-Day walks have raised nearly $600 million with net proceeds paying for breast cancer research and community programs for screening, treatment and education.
The Opening Ceremonies at the Cow Palace early on Friday morning were a flurry of tutus, pink wigs, Katy Perry songs and excitement mingled with nerves. For the “3-Day Virgins” in the audience, the notion of walking 60 miles over three days was something we’d trained for (well, at least some of us …), yet something unknown and vaguely intimidating. After an emotional speech by Dr. Sheri Phillips, the 3-Day’s national spokesperson and a breast cancer survivor herself, and a flag-raising in honor of those who have lost their battles with breast cancer, the walk opened and a sea of pink entered the streets of Daly City. What lay ahead of us was, logistically speaking, 20 miles a day of walking. Emotionally speaking, though, this meant walking with survivors of breast cancer, watching husbands walk in honor of their wives, seeing daughters walk in honor of their mothers – all trudging through the sore muscles and blisters for a common goal. As one sign along the route stated — “Blisters Don’t Need Chemo.”
The first day took us from Daly City, through the Sunset, down the Great Highway past the Cliff House, up and over into the Presidio, Pacific Heights and then back down to Fisherman’s Wharf where we caught the ferry to Treasure Island to set up camp. Little pink tents dotted the open field, our home for the next two nights. Dinner for walkers was under the big top tent, complete with carbo-loads of delicious pasta and entertainment from the crew. On-site medical staff provided much-needed blister lancing, muscle rubbing and ankle taping for the walkers and massage chairs and official merchandise were available along “Main Street.”
Day 2 began with an early morning ferry ride to the Berkeley Marina where we trekked through Berkeley, Albany, the Cal campus, down Grand Avenue, past Lake Merritt and ultimately to Jack London Square, where we limped onto the ferry for the night.
The third and final day started with a ferry ride to Tiburon and through Mill Valley, Sausalito and finally across the Golden Gate Bridge, a veritable pink ribbon of people weaving across the bridge to our destination at the Marina Green. What became clear over those 60 miles was that, beyond that I probably should have spent more time training, if evidenced by the severe limp I’d perfected over three days, the walking became secondary to the experience itself. Yes, we walked 60 miles, but along the way we met people whose stories we won’t forget. Smiles, despite the canes, casts and moleskin, kept beaming through each day.
At lunch the first day, overlooking the Cliff House, I spoke to Terry from Chicago who was on her 12th walk in honor of her aunt, a cancer survivor. She was a slight woman, whose body weight was more than doubled by the sheer number of pins, ribbons, boas, hats and sparkly pink accessories. I spoke to Mr. January, (AKA Matthew Pickus) a handsome social butterfly who began his commitment to the Susan G. Komen 3-Day in 2006 after the passing of his father. Since then, Matthew has not only walked in more than 15 3-Days across the country, but founded 60 Mile Men, Inc., an organization of men who are committed to raising money in support of Breast Cancer 3-Day events. To do so, they annually publish and sell calendars of beefcakes (and not-so-beefy cakes) with strategically placed stethoscopes, aprons and top hats. They sell apparel ranging from T-shirts embellished with the “60-Mile Man” logo to others with taglines like, “If You’re Going to Stare at Them, Give Me Money to Keep Them Healthy,” and (in honor of all of us who did the unthinkable and attached one to our hips) “Does this Fanny Pack Make My Butt Look Big?” Proceeds from the sales of these items go directly to the 3-Day events.
While walking through the Berkeley campus, my team watched as a college student ran up to his mom on the course with a huge bouquet. We saw a little boy, no more than 2 years old, holding a sign that read “I’m a Breast Man … Since Birth” and a little girl, obviously his sister, with a sign saying, “Find a Cure Before I Grow Mine.”
We met a newlywed couple participating in the walk as part of their honeymoon. We watched as walker after walker strolled by with a picture of a lost loved one safety-pinned to their backs, a reminder to the rest of us of how vital this walk is to the future of cancer research and millions of women affected by this disease.
Harley Davidson aficionados cruised streets alongside the walkers, honking, protecting us at intersections and playing Disco music from boom boxes bungee-corded to the backs of their bikes. The San Jose Police Department sent a posse of handsome volunteer policemen, decked out in pink wigs, pink feather boas and ballet skirts, who rode their bikes alongside walkers and basked in adoration on the part of the women at the event.
Crossing the finish line on Sunday afternoon concluded an experience I will never forget. I laughed until I cried, cried until I laughed and further cemented in my mind the notion that people with a common purpose can make a difference in the world. Many barely made it to the final staging area, collapsing onto the grass below, but when entering the Marina Green, with the music playing and the 375 Walk Crew members applauding our accomplishment, there was a renewed spirit in the crowd. As breast cancer survivors, in pink 3-Day Walk T-shirts, gathered around the center of the stage, we, the remaining participants, honored them with a “One Shoe Salute.” The sight of almost 1,500 smelly, dusty tennis shoes, held high in the air, was the perfect culmination. Sixty miles. $3.9 million. 1,500 walkers. 375 crew members. And just one step closer to a cure.
Registration is now open for the 2012 3-Day Walk. Please visit http://www.the3day.org.
originally published in the Walnut Creek Patch – September 12, 2011