Each year, after each 3-Day, I write a letter that I then send to each of my contributors, recapping the event. Those of you who so very generously contributed to this year's fundraising will be receiving a copy of this in the mail in the next day or two. But I post it here, too, for my blog family. Every year, I wonder how I can possibly write another one of these letters and not sound as though I'm repeating myself. But every year, each event has new moments and new memories. Grab a beverage. And maybe a blanket and pillow. You might be here a while.
August 10, 2009
Family and friends:
Another year, another 3-Day done.
Friday, it rained. Waiting for Opening Ceremonies to begin, we felt a few foreshadowing drops. As we kicked off the 2009 Chicago Breast Cancer 3-Day, it was cloudy and not too hot – perfect weather for walking 60 miles, or 21 miles, anyway, which was the mileage of the day’s route.
I was walking with Amy, whom I met on last year’s event, and her friend Ronnie, who was walking for the first time. Amy was part of Opening Ceremonies this year. She carried the My Father flag, as her father is a breast-cancer survivor. Many people don’t know that it affects men, too.
This was my sixth 3-Day, so at this point, crying is an involuntary response the minute I hear the swelling strings of the event’s stirring music. Amy did a terrific job, looking tall and beautiful and proud. Later, I had to laugh when she said, “I’m just glad I didn’t fall down the stairs.” When I was part of Opening Ceremonies a couple of years ago, that was my reaction, too.
And as we have in years past, we entered the route to U2’s “Beautiful Day” and the cheers and applause of the crew and gathered family and friends, there to wish us well.
But not far into the route, I had a sensation I’d never before experienced on the 3-Day: I wanted to leave. I wanted to call Doreen, who had my car, and ask her to come and pick me up. It was a startling sensation. I love the 3-Day. I love the spirit of the event, the sense of community. As my friend Devereaux once said, “I want to live in the 3-Day universe.”
Except that, this year, I didn’t. As I walked, I thought about where my 3-Day zeal had gone. Was I feeling bored, having done the event so many years in a row? Was I feeling drained, having had an emotional year to date? I wasn’t entirely sure. But I did know this: I’d made a commitment. And if I left, I’d feel like a quitter.
In February, when I went to L.A. Dave’s memorial service, his family very generously gave me one of his Cubs hats. I wore it on the event this year. Dave was – and is, I’m sure – one of my biggest cheerleaders. Every year, after every event, he told me that I was his hero. And while that word does not apply to me, it was always very kind of him to say.
And so I kept walking. For all those women and men who have survived breast cancer. And all those we’ve lost. And for Dave.
The first persistent drops of rain arrived just as Amy and Ronnie and I arrived at lunch. We nabbed some cardboard – boxes broken down behind the food tents – and sat on it as the rain grew more steady. We donned our thin plastic ponchos and ate. Normally, disposable plastic ponchos are big enough for a couple of people, but mine was rather wee. And essentially sleeveless. I wondered if I’d somehow bought ponchos made for kids. As I walked the remainder of the route, I got pretty wet.
As we arrived at camp, it continued to rain. It rained while we ate dinner – at 4:37 in the afternoon. Thankfully, though, the rain abated long enough for me to get set up in camp. A local Girl Scout troop (or the parents of the girls of a local Girl Scout troop – I didn’t see any Girl Scouts) were at Oakton Community College, our annual host, setting up tents for walkers.
Amy and Ronnie and I met up in the dining tent (which is basically a circus tent – it’s ginormous) to hear the day’s announcements and watch a video message from Nancy Brinker. Nancy is Susan G. Komen’s sister. When Susan died in 1980, Nancy promised her sister that she would do everything in her power to find a cure for breast cancer, which is how the Susan G. Komen Foundation came to be in 1982. To date, the foundation has raised more than $1.5 billion dollars in the fight against breast cancer.
The video also featured Nancy’s (and Susan’s) mother as well as Nancy’s son, Eric, who took the stage after the video to speak to us. He’s officially participating in the Washington D.C. event this year, but he’s visiting other cities on the schedule and walking with us in order to train. He was there to thank us, but also to tell us a story.
Recently, he was traveling with his mom when she received a phone call in their hotel room. And as she listened, she started sobbing uncontrollably. Eric did his best to console her, concerned that something had happened to his grandmother. And then he heard her say, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
This Wednesday, Nancy Brinker will receive the National Medal of Freedom from President Obama in recognition of her efforts on behalf of her sister.
At that moment, being there to hear that news, I was really glad that I didn’t leave the event.
Thankfully, the rain made itself scarce overnight. My tent was swathed in plastic, but sleeping in dry conditions is always preferable to sleeping in wet conditions.
Saturday morning, however, just as I headed for the dining tent to meet up with Amy and Ronnie and have breakfast, the rain returned. (Side note: The food crew is amazing, supplying hot meals to thousands of people, but someone really needs to teach them how to make decent coffee.)
And so we started the day’s mileage, 19.3 miles, officially, in the rain. Thankfully, the crew handed out ponchos as we headed out onto the route. Amy, the love, retrieved one for me while I stayed under the tent so I didn’t have to get wet in order to stay dry.
Day 1’s route took us through Northbrook and Winnetka and Kenilworth, among other towns, which afforded all of us the opportunity to gawk at insanely gorgeous homes and gardens.
But Day 2’s route is always the best, because it takes us through Mt. Prospect. Mt. Prospect is AWESOME! The town’s motto is “Where Friendliness Is A Way of Life.” Truer words were never spoken. Not only are the Cheering Stations in Mt. Prospect always the best, but residents turn out in droves in front of their homes to offer water and lemonade and candy and freezy pops. They set out their sprinklers. They decorate their front yards with ribbons and balloons. They write messages on the sidewalks in colorful chalk. The whole town is one enormous cheering station.
And then there are the Mt. Prospect police. They help us cross as busy intersections. They have a squad car with a pink hood. They hand out pink sheriff-badge stickers. They are all ridiculously handsome.
And they wear pink shirts!
We also walked through Des Plaines. One of the cops who helped us cross looked an awful lot like Vince Vaughn. I asked him if everyone tells him that. He doffed his hat to me and said, “Yes, ma’am, they do.” (Patty, that anecdote is for you!)
Happily, the rain ended before we arrived at lunch. But the clouds had given way to clear skies and the temperatures soared. A group of folks set up a tent along the route and offered grab-and-go slices of cold, rind-free watermelon. Perfect. Later, a couple of women offered baby wipes. Genius.
Many kids turned out to cheer for us, gorgeous little girls proudly wearing pink dresses, a Boy Scout troop with more enthusiasm than I’d ever seen. One young Scout stood along the route with a fused chunk of ice cubes in his hand yelling, “Ice! It’s cold! It’s free!” He was the best ice salesman ever. I approached him and then stopped. He looked at me a bit quizzically. I said, “I want ice, dude!” And he said, “Yes!” and he and his fellow Scouts went wild. I guess he hadn’t had many takers on the ice. I continued on, laughing. A few paces later, one of the troop dads said, amused, “I think they’ve had too many freeze pops. The sugar is really getting to them!”
But I was thrilled to hold onto ice. My hands had swollen in the heat. The ice felt great. And it melted quickly.
Day 2 wore on. Day 2 is always the hardest. And the heat wasn’t helping the cause. Amy and Ronnie hopped a coach back to camp at the last pit stop of the day. They were both walking with plentiful blisters. And Amy’s knee was giving her grief as was Ronnie’s ankle. They were both walking in their spare pairs of shoes because their shoes from Day 1 had gotten so wet. So I walked the last leg to camp on my own.
I ate dinner and made some notes in my little notebook (which help jog my memory as I write this letter) then headed for my tent and fell asleep for a little while. I managed to rouse myself and head for the showers, where there was no waiting. Excellent!
A shower during the 3-Day is the best shower ever. I was literally gritty going in, but emerged cooled and clean. I returned to the dining tent to watch a few minutes of 3-Day Rock Star (think “American Idol”) but soon headed to my tent in the gloaming. The lack of sleep was starting to catch up with me.
On Thursday night, at the hotel in Northbrook, I had requested a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call and set the three alarms on my cell phone. I was worried I’d oversleep. I turned off the TV about 9:30 p.m. and slept for what I assumed was many hours. I woke up and thought, “It must be close to 4.” I looked at the clock. It was 11:47 p.m. Yep, I was in for a long night of waking up and checking the clock.
And Friday night, I hadn’t slept well. So by Saturday evening, I had walked more than 40 miles without the benefit of solid sleep for two nights. I slept long enough to dream, though. I had a very strange dream about Bill Kurtis, the second such time I’ve dreamt about him during a 3-Day. (Bill, I’ll relay the whole thing the next time I see you. But it involved a nefarious-looking cab driver with a Russian accent. And your own brand of stationery. Go figure.)
Day 3 arrived early. We were up about 5 a.m., packing and breaking down our tents. With tent packed and gear schlepped to the gear truck, I headed to breakfast. Amy and Ronnie were just finishing their food and coffee. They headed to the medical tent to get taped up for the day. When they were ready, we boarded a bus to take us to the beginning of the day’s route, which was listed as 16.7 miles.
(The mileage on the route cards never adds up to exactly 60. The mileage differs from year to year based on the route. But once you factor in walking all over camp, which is HUGE, for three days, I’m sure we surpass the 60-mile mark. I also think that 3-Day mileage varies from actual mileage. I can’t tell you how many times it felt as though we had walked far enough to get to the next pit stop only to happen upon a sign informing us that the next pit stop was one mile away.)
At the starting point of the Day 3 route, I saw Trever McGhee, a walker who for the past two days had offered encouragement to all the other walkers. Trever is walking every event this year, 900 miles, carrying a 12-foot banner to help raise awareness. He’s walking for his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Isis-Angellica, to save her from ever having to face the possibility of breast cancer. Amy and Ronnie asked him to pose with them for a picture. I snapped the shot and then handed him the $20 in my wallet.
I encourage everyone to consider making a contribution to his enormous effort. I’m so grateful for all the support you’ve given me to date. But typically, walkers have 4 weeks after each event to meet their minimum fundraising requirement. Trever just learned that he has to meet his minimum within four DAYS of the conclusion of each event or contribute the balance himself.
You can read about his journey and contribute at www.3day.me
On the bus on the way to the starting point that morning, I noticed a digital sign on a bank that read, “84 at 7:34”. Oh boy. We were in for a hot one. Walking through Chicago is markedly less shady than walking through the suburbs. And once we hit the lakefront, there were vast stretches of nothing but sun.
Along the route, I found myself walking alongside Barb. (Amy and Ronnie were a bit slower on the route on Day 3, thanks to their impairments.) Barb’s daughters were on the event, too, but were at different points on the route. Barb and I stopped under a tree along the lake for a shade-and-breeze break. Another walker came along and asked if we’d watch her things while she went and dipped herself in the water, shoes and all. Even by the azure lake, it was scorching.
At each stop, I considered boarding a bus to closing. Two years ago, my knee insisted that I stop walking and I took the bus to the end of the route, but I was so disappointed to have to do it. After walking for nearly three days, it’s very anti-climactic to take a bus for the final stretch.
This year, though, with the extreme heat, I thought it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I didn’t have any blisters. I wasn’t in any pain. I was just ... so ... tired.
But at each stop, I’d check my route card and think, “I can do 2.7 more miles” or “I can do 2.5 more miles.”
And I was glad I did. After walking along the lagoon in Lincoln Park, I followed the route underneath an overpass and emerged to see two of Mt. Propect’s finest standing in front of their pink-hooded squad car, wearing their pink shirts. I nearly started sobbing. As I walked toward them, I smiled and said, “I didn’t think I’d see you guys until next year!” and one of them replied, “We missed you already.” They high-fived me as I passed.
Have I mentioned how much we LOVE Mt. Prospect?!
I arrived at the last pit stop, just south of the Chicago River and within earshot of Lollapalooza. At that point, I was 2 miles from Soldier Field and the end of the route. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish the event, being so close. So I returned to the route. I walked past the Shedd Aquarium and then toward Soldier Field. Then ... into Soldier Field! The very last leg of the route was through a concourse of the arena with a great view of the field, and then down a ramp where friends and family and walkers cheered us as we took our final steps.
And at the very end of the route were the Mt. Prospect police I’d seen in Lincoln Park, hugging every walker.
I headed for the bathroom – a real bathroom! – then joined the crowd to cheer the last walkers as they arrived. The crew – the amazing crew – took a quick jaunt through the throng to massive cheers.
And then, with friends and family dispatched outside to take their places for Closing Ceremonies, we lined up for our victory walk, the last leg of the 3-Day journey, along a path lined with our beloved crew, offering one more round of applause and high-fives.
We took our place by the stage and cheered as the other walkers filed in, an impossibly long stream of walkers, about 2,000 of us. And then we cheered the crew as they filed into the circle we’d created.
And then, as we do every year, each walker held one shoe aloft in salute to the survivors who walked into the circle created by us and the crew, a collective embrace, thousands strong. A group of eight survivors took the small stage in the center of the circle and joined hands as we raised the final flag of the 3-Day, our commitment to creating a world without breast cancer.
Lastly, we turned our attention to the main stage where Amy and other walkers walked in once again with their flags and were joined by children and mothers and sisters and grandmothers and aunts, all those for whom we walk.
My heart is full of gratitude for each of you and your unending support. I truly could not do this without you.
My love to you all.
P.S. A special thank you to Doreen for being there at the end and for being my chauffeur! And to Jeetu, for his parking space this weekend. Thank-you brownies are forthcoming! And to my parents, for delivering dinner last night!
P.P.S. This year’s Chicago event raised more than $5 million. Thank you
for being a part of that very impressive total!
Labels: 2009 Breast Cancer 3-Day, 3-Day