Saturday, August 10, 2013

The 3-Day: Slightly Wistful Edition ...

This weekend, I'm a 3-Day voyeur.

I'm looking at pictures and tweets on Twitter from folks who are walking the last Chicago 3-Day and I'm feeling a bit nostalgic.

There is a Vine of the last walker arriving tonight in camp. The last-ever last-walker ceremony in Chicago. (I do not expect the event to ever return.) The last-walker ceremony was always one of my favorite parts of the 3-Day. A lot of hoopla and cheering and tears. I cried for the better part of those three days every year. It's hard not to, when you're a sap like me.

I gasped a little gasp yesterday when I saw on Twitter that there are about 800 walkers this year. I've walked events with more than 2,000, so 800 is a stark reminder of what's become of Komen. (Of course, Komen's PR folks are claiming that the difficult economy is at the core of why participation is so down and why the schedule of events has been cut in half for 2014. But we all know better. I won't sully the post with that business.)

So I've been thinking about the walkers this weekend. Oh, what amazing weather they have for walking! August in Chicago can be quite the sauna, but this weekend has been lovely. So that's nice, to end on a cool note, as it were.

And I've been thinking about all the amazing people I met through my seven 3-Days. I've lost touch with many of them – Pat, if you're somehow reading this, I hope you're well! – but others have become fixtures, some slightly more permanent than others.

I'm welling up right now, remembering Mike telling me about one of his sons, who was just a little guy at the time and who gave Mike $5 toward his fundraising. His wife, Colleen, sends a Christmas card every year. The boys are no longer little.

The year after I met Mike, he surprised me on the route. He was out and about and saw the walkers, so he pulled over for a while, hoping I'd walk by. I did. I was stunned to see him. Of course, I cried.

Erin and Shel were his family teammates the year he walked. I was to be Erin's tentmate. We're both too tall to share a tent. As luck would have it, another family member who was supposed to walk with them never showed up, so Erin and Shel shared a tent, and Mike and I each had our own digs.

A big team of walkers welcomed me with open arms the year that I met Jen, one of the teammates, and she and I offered a workshop for folks who hadn't walked before. I saw Tina on the event the following year. She was the only one from the team to walk again. Many of us walked year after year, but many others did one event and crossed it off their bucket lists.

And then there's Amy, who has become the sister I never had. She appeared at my side in the early darkness of Day 1 one year, doing the walk herself that year. (Though as I always tell walkers, you're never truly doing the walk alone. There are hundreds – previously thousands – of fellow walkers and at least one of them is bound to become your friend for the weekend if not for life.)

She and I were very tired on Day 2 and decided that the only way to keep going was to find a way to laugh about it. So we stuck our arms out in front of us, limp at the wrists, and cracked up as we walked as the zombies we felt like that day.

I still do the zombie walk for a moment when I'm tired. And I think of Amy and I laugh and that little boost is enough to get me on my way.

I've lost touch with Michael and Monica but I'm sure they're doing well. Such a cool couple. She was crew that year, Michael was walking. He and I walked into Soldier Field together where Monica was waiting to tell him that she just found out she was going to be on "Chopped." She's an amazing chef. And Michael was one of the stars of that event. A tall man in a feathered hat, flouncy skirt, and giant bra can't help but attract a lot of attention. Oh, and his satin sash. Earned from posing in the frisky 60-Mile Men calendar. Oh, yes, it's a real thing. Oh, yes, it is what you're thinking.

And the memories keep coming as I type:

— Pink-beard Barry, who walked every event every year for a while, and when he couldn't walk, he'd crew.

— And Mt. Prospect, oh, the city of Mt. Prospect. Never has there been a more enthusiastic bunch of supporters. Residents decorated their front yards. The police wore pink shirts and helped us cross at major intersections. The firemen came out with a truck and posed for pictures with the walkers. Homeowners rigged their garden hoses to spray through fans to mist us as we walked by. Others set up sprinklers. Kids dressed up in costumes. One very sweet older woman set up a card table in her driveway and handed out pale-pink silk rose petals to thank us for walking and to remind us that we were loved. I still have mine, still stuck to the waistpack that I wore on every event.

— Which was given to me in Atlanta by my dear friend Adam, who was working with Dan Pallotta, back when they were still Pallotta TeamWorks events. I also still have the note that he wrote to me on that event. It's nearly falling apart at the creases now, but I would read it before every 3-Day, standing in the darkness, waiting for the event to begin.

There are a zillion more memories. I wrote letters to my contributors after every event and they were crammed full of little moments that made each event so special:

— The little boy who handed me a cup of blue Gatorade and beamed when I told him that blue Gatorade was my favorite.

— The kids standing outside their school on Day 1, some cheering, some shy, and the little girl missing her front teeth who repeated over and over with much gusto: "You can do it!"

— The older woman – I have always assumed she was a grandmother, as she was too adorable to not be someone's grandmother – who stood at a corner and hugged every walker as they approached her.

— My friend Gemma driving me to O'Hare (my first event was in Atlanta, three weeks after September 11th; I was not keen to get on a plane), got my luggage out of her trunk, hugged me, and said, "Lots of Kleenex" and "Surrender to the schmaltz." It was excellent advice. I carried plenty of travel packs of Kleenex on every event thereafter.

— And the 3-Day community I've come to know on Twitter, none of whom I've yet met in person, but who are amazing, kind, supportive women who enrich my life 140 characters at a time.

Tomorrow's forecast looks to be another picture-perfect day. Here's to all the walkers. May their legs carry them with ease for their final Chicago miles.

And just remember, kids: If you get tired, walk like a zombie.

It totally helps.

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