What an amazing weekend - the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer was really terrific. Difficult, challenging, moving, powerful, hopeful and sad. We started out with an opening ceremony at 6:30am on Saturday which was a real tearjerker. Even though I had crewed for the event in 2000, I had forgotten about the T-shirts... walkers wear T-shirts with photos of people they have lost to breast cancer - sometimes a montage of many many faces - seeing all of the actual people rather than just hearing statistics makes it so real. Each walker receives a big tag to wear on their shirt or pack that says who they are walking for. I had 5 names on mine - some people had at least 20 names, and others had so many they had to write them on their shirt as well. One woman must have had 40 names. It's really a mix of emotions because the names are for both survivors and those who lost their lives.
The woman who spoke at the opening ceremony had lost her sister to breast cancer, and so she did the walk a number of years ago for her, and said she thought to herself - wow, there are a number of women here who already have breast cancer and don't know it yet - which is so scary to think about. Then she told us that she was one of those women - she was diagnosed shortly afterwards herself! She's been free and clear for about a year now.
The great news - the 2300 walkers in San Francisco raised 5.5 million dollars!! Over 250 of the 2300 walkers are survivors.
Every 3 minutes another woman in the US is diagnosed with breast cancer. They had big pink sashes and gave one out to a walker at random every 3 minutes. I got one a few hours into the walk.
So as for the walk itself, it was one of those incredibly rare HOT summer days in San Francisco. No fog, no wind, no nothing. Plus, we did nearly all of the walk in the north bay, where it was 85 degrees, so my cold weather training wasn't too helpful in that regard! Luckily I had done a walk in incredible heat and high altitude the weekend before, so I knew how to keep myself healthy. Let's just say the New Yorker in me came out full force - I came in 4th out of 2300 people on the first 26 mile day! I was really proud of myself, I never would have thought I could do that well. It's true it's not a race, and I was definitely not out to "win" by any means - but observing the large amount of jostling and jockeying for position when the walk began, it was apparent that hundreds of people were taking it very seriously. Interestingly, I would say a good half of the people hadn't trained at all, and were just going to see how far they could get, with no real goal of completing the walk. As Avon pointed out - the real work was the fundraising.
After injuring my leg somewhat seriously during that first day, and finishing the last 3 miles on pure Adrenalin, I was doubtful I would be able to do the full 13 miles today. I figured if I went really slowly I may be okay. I wound up meeting up with #'s 1&2 from the day before en route (as they were speeding by me), and had a fabulous conversation with one of them, and I guess we were going really fast as well - with about 3 miles left I decided to walk with 2 other women we were passing, and I am SO GLAD because they were such inspirations! Really in great shape, in their mid-50's, both of them survivors, one of them a 2 time survivor, her first time when she was 16! Very intelligent, successful women who each sat on the board of a number of non-profits. One of them, Nancy, was going to be receiving a check from the Avon Foundation at the closing ceremony for $200,000 for Project Openhand - they provide meals to women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer when they are unable to really provide for themselves. So that was really a treat - and the 3 of us crossed the line together at #7! I thought man, I am not going to be able to walk tomorrow. Hey - I finished in time for the world cup game!
The other amazing part of the experience was all of the cheering and support from the families and friends of the walkers - lined up along the route and constantly cheering us on. Young children slapping your hands as you walk by - and I really just got such a sense for the power and love of the families and other supporters. It was so nice being appreciated so vocally, even by the other walkers as well.
Final stat: The Avon foundation enabled 500,000 under-privileged women to get early-detection screenings including mammograms last year. Early detection is the key to surviving breast cancer!