Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Susan G. Komen: The 3-Day for the Cure

When I signed up to walk The 3-Day last year, I didn't know what to expect entirely.  I hoped to be immersed in a positive atmosphere where we could promote breast cancer awareness and provide encouragement to survivors and co-survivors (the Komen term for the support group of survivors).  I had no idea how amazing this event would truly be.

My goal was to have my fundraising done in June so I could focus on other things.  Thanks to the generosity of my family and friends, I was able to reach my goal in June.  Each walker is required to raise $2300 minimum in order to participate in the walk.  I've heard comments in support of and against this requirement.  My opinion is that we are raising money for cancer research and community programs.  The more money we raise the better.  If you don't require participants to raise money, they won't.  It's as simple as that.  No one likes to solicit for money.  But what's the point of a thousand women walking 60 miles with nothing to show at the end other than a big bill for putting the whole thing on? 

So, I am very much in support of the fundraising minimum and had no trouble reaching the goal with months to spare.  And I was glad to see big name sponsors such as Bank of America and New Balance providing amenities and support for us at camp and throughout the event.  Without corporate sponsors, the foundation would have to fork out a lot of cash to produce this event.  Again, the more money that can go toward cancer research the better.

The hardest part of the whole experience was packing.  In the valley of the sun we rarely have anything other than sunshine and varying degrees of warm.  This weekend however, rain was in the forecast.  This meant extra gear.  With an extra-large duffel bag, I thought I'd have room to spare.  Not so much. 

Day 1:
On Friday morning my teammate (HP) picked me up at the ass-crack of dawn.  We had to be checked in prior to 6 AM.  Her husband drove us downtown where the volunteers had a smooth system of drop off rolling.  The whole thing was very efficient and even the Starbucks, located on the edge of the park, was fully staffed and handed me my latte with time to spare. 

                                                          Team Trekkin' for Titties

We joined the hoards of walkers already in the corral.  A sea of pink.  There was a brief ceremony presenting all the reasons why we walk and to honor those we've lost.  It was very moving.  And then... we began to walk. 

Our first day took us 22 miles from downtown Phoenix, through Paradise Valley, and on a tour of North Scottsdale.  We had "pit stops" every couple of miles where walkers could replenish water and calorie supplies.  At about 12 miles in we had lunch.  After lunch, our other teammate (GV) was dragging a little bit and we tried to encourage her, and support her, (all while entertaining her) as we continued to the end of our day 1 journey.  Somehow, through the day, we slowly worked our way to the front of the pack and after 8 hours and 15 minutes of walking we arrived at camp. 

We didn't realize it at the time, but we were lucky to have camp all to ourselves.  No line for the showers.  No line for the foot massage at the BOA booth.  Luxury all for us.  We showered and got some food.  I ate like I've never eaten before.  The food was really really good.  Lots of veggies, mac and cheese, pasta marinara, salads.  And hot coffee (thank you Starbucks for the VIA!!).  After filling our bellies we lounged around.  I barely made it to 7 PM before I was asleep in the tent.  I slept like a rock, waking at about 4:30 AM with the noise of other walkers beginning to stir. 

Day 2:
Reality check.  My feet hurt.  I have a hot spot (turned blister by the end of the day).  Walking sucks!  I would so much rather be running.  But as I kept reminding my team, it wasn't about what we want, or what feels comfortable.  For me, The 3-Day experience was about emulating the suffering of a cancer victim.  Not trying to avoid pain and discomfort but to embrace it as a learning experience.  My feet hurt to walk on my blister.  So?  Patients undergoing chemotherapy develop sores in their mouths that make it painful with each bite of food.  I think I can suck it up and walk on my blister. 

The route for day 2 took us 18 miles on a tour of North Scottsdale.  It was scenic and the neighborhoods were nice.  I was in a good mood the whole day.  HP decided half way through the day that it felt better to speed walk so mid-morning we latched onto a couple of ladies from another team and let them pace us into lunch.  After lunch HP took off like a bat out of hell and I couldn't keep up anymore.  I told her to go ahead - her family was waiting for her at the cheer station just down the road.  I caught her there and we finished the day together.  GV walked with her sweetheart today and arrived about 30 minutes or so after us. 

                                           Day 2 is finished!  Still smiling...

                                               Camp:  A sea of pink tents!

We showered and walked around camp looking at all the tent decorations.  Some people went all out with Christmas lights and everything.  Next time we'll know better.  We also visited the Remembrance Tent which is set up to honor participants who were supposed to walk, or have previously walked, that were lost this year to breast cancer.  Survivors and co-survivors write notes to their lost friends and family and there are pictures everywhere.  It was very moving, but I had this overwhelming feeling of emptiness.  I looked at photos of women who were my age.  1 week ago, or 3 months ago, or last year they were alive.  And now they are dead.  It wasn't depressing as you might think.  In the spirit of Susan G. Komen, it was motivating and hopeful.  It made me want to kick cancer's ass and find a cure for this awful disease. 

We took a hot shower and headed up to the mess hall for another round of foot massages (we went through the line twice!) and then sat down to dinner.  Another nice spread of food and good conversation.  Shortly after dinner I retired to the tent for another dreamless night of sleep. 
                                         Getting massages courtesy of Bank of America!

Day 3:
It rained overnight on Saturday night.  The ground was wet as we packed our bags and tore down our tent.  Thankfully it sprinkled only the first 10 minutes of our walk and then it stopped, despite remaining overcast.  I spent the first 2 hours of the morning trying to keep up with HP as she set a blistering pace.  And speaking of blister, I had found a small blister pad in my kit and was able to tape up my heel so I could walk comfortably for the final day (yeah!!).  We blazed through the morning and by the time we hit the "lunch stop" we were being held up because we were now ahead of when the next part of the course actually opened.  So each time we hit a pit stop we had to wait about 10 minutes before we could continue walking.  This usually gave me enough time to catch HP. 

Leaving the final pit stop we stuck together and she drag-walked me to the finish!  We had texted my husband to tell him when to expect us.  He was just pulling into the parking garage in Old Town when we crossed the finish banner.  We were among the top 10 finished (though it was NOT a race!!).  We took a few photos and collected our finisher shirt and pink rose.  Then we demanded to go for pizza and beer.  We had spotted a place a few blocks down the street on our way in.  The pizza never tasted so good and the beer numbed my tired feet. 

After lunch we picked up my gear bags and headed home for a much deserved hot bath.  Over 3 days we walked 60 miles in 19 hours and 45 minutes.  Our team raised over $6900 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  If you've ever considered participating in this event, I would highly recommend it.  Extremely well organized.  Fun and again, HOPEFUL!  There were a few tears, but infinitely more laughter.  It made me appreciate being alive and being able. 

On a final note I'd like to make a shout out to the awesome people of Scottsdale who gave us jello shots (tequila!!) toward the end of day 2.  You rock.  And to all the people who came out to show support and cheer for us... you are amazing.  You made us feel like rock stars.  You have no idea how much your support kept us going for 60 miles.  You fed our bellies with snacks and drinks, and you fed our souls with your love.  Thank you!

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