Part II in an essay that started HERE
Several times per week, when I went to pick up my youngest daughter from daycare, I’d run into my friend who had already signed up for the 60-mile breast cancer walk.
“Have you signed up yet?” she’d ask, and I’d duck and dodge. “Did you sign up? So and so signed up.”
I knew I’d have to sign up or I’d never be able to show my face without looking like a fool. After all, I talked a good game about being interested and how, gosh, if we all did it together, surely we’d motivate each other. You could practically hear the Rudy soundtrack in the background as I spoke.
So, I finally signed up. Perhaps it was that deadline on the discount to sign up was ending or maybe it was that, damnit, this was just the excuse I needed to get back in shape and do something (dare I say it? gasp –) *for. my. self.* It was probably the $15 discount. But the “being healthier” thing had some merit, too. Some.
We started by creating Web pages telling our friends and family why we were devoted [crazy] enough to walk 60 miles. And we held bake sales during the local summer concert series and guilted our friends and coworkers over Facebook into making donations. Eventually, each of the nine members of our team raised the minimum $2,300 per person required to do the walk. Financial fear motivated us even more than cancer. If we didn’t raise the required cash via donations, we’d have to pay it ourselves. But don’t worry! They would let us do that in credit card installments! (It’s quite a motivator.)
In the end, though, by the close of the walk, we’d actually raised more than $33,000. More than enough.
If you’ve never prepared for a long distance event, then you have no idea how much time you have to devote to training. I sure didn’t. My less than thrilled husband and kids didn’t. We’re talking hours and hours. Walking takes time, especially if you have to build up to 20 miles. The Washington, D.C. Komen walk was in October and required walkers to trek 60 miles over three days. So beginning in April, we hit the treadmills during the week, then set out on the W and OD trail on the weekends. In between talking and stretching, we’d look for mile markers the same way people stranded on an island look for ships.
Our first time out, we went 8 miles. We thought we were super heroes. The next morning, when I limped around the house like a marionette, I knew I was in trouble. This was going to be hard. On every walk, we’d return triumphantly home, boasting of our accomplishments. We’d make sure everyone knew about every fraction of a mile just like a child will tell you that they are 6 and three-quarters years old. But over time, we increased our mileage until we walked about 18 miles in five and half hours. “Close enough”, we told ourselves. “If we can do 18, we can do 20.”
When September rolled around, it was time to get serious. I mean, really, what would we wear? This required many phone calls and meetings huddled around computer screens. We’d have to coordinate outfits. That’s what girls do when they’re doing something IMPORTANT.
We decided the first day we’d wear the inspirational “This is Who I’m Walking For” shirts. Day two was the “Save Second Base”, shirt with the two softballs super-imposed over the pink ribbon, because it was funny. We hid those from our kids, since they were too young to know about “bases” and we really didn’t want to start explaining. Better that they discovered those crucial facts the good old fashioned way: on the back of the school bus, or, even better, from Judy Blume novels and Showtime. Our last day, we wore shirts with our team name and the phrase “Zero to Sixty in Three Days.”
The walk was everything you’d expect it to be. We started out at 6 a.m. at the Washington National’s Stadium, a crowd of pink under a black sky still decked out in starry splendor. Speakers motivated us with stories of survival and courage. Survivors parted through us with banners, reminding us why we were walking, and for whom we were walking and showed us that hell, if they could do it, so could we. No whining. Suck it up Sister. Everyone in that crowd had somehow been touched by breast cancer. Breast cancer was like that insistent guy at the school dance that kept tapping people on the shoulder and bidding them to dance. You could only avert your gaze for so long until you or your friend was on the floor praying for the next song to start.
Twenty miles is a long way. And you shock the hell out of yourself when you finish that first day and can still make it to camp to put up your pink dome tent, get something to eat, and then set yourself in front of the shower truck. I know, I know, I’d never heard of a shower truck, either. But they do exist. In fact, the showers intimidated me more than the walk. When I’d first heard we’d have to take showers together, I immediately conjured the gang showers in junior high. So I did what any normal person who’d lived through gym class showers would do: I talked to my teammates and came up with a plan for us to stagger our shower times. Seriously. I am that much of a child. In reality, the shower line took so long and it got so late, that we all got in line together and filed into the truck one after another. And survived … and did not take showers the next night.
The last few miles of the last day were the hardest. It was hot. The route tangled through D.C. like a heap of discarded Christmas tree lights. And we’d had just about enough of porta-potties. A grown woman can only lock herself into a plastic coffin filled with feces so many times. There is not enough Purell on the planet to make that bearable. But somehow we made it.
The last block, with the finish in front of the Lincoln Memorial in sight, I tried my best to keep calm, to be stoic, to cross the finish line with dignity. But when I crossed into the crowd of cheering friends, family and others who had finished, I broke down. “It’s okay to cry. Go ahead, cry,” people commanded. And I did. And I embraced my teammates and cried all over them, too. And then cried holding my daughters, and cried when I saw my mom and said, “I did it. I did every damn mile. All 60.” I welled up again when I called my aunt, the survivor, who had wanted to walk in Philadelphia, but had broken her knee just prior to the walk. “I did it. I did it for you,” I told her.
But that was a lie.
I didn’t just do it for her. I did it for me. And for my two daughters and for that woman I’d seen with head made cruelly svelte from chemo that one day on the way to the movies. I did it because I didn’t think I could. I did it because one day, my luck could run out. I did it to give myself a fighting chance. I did it. I did.
I am so proud of my team for the grace, drive and courage they showed throughout our journey. I learned so very much from each of them and from every mile we walked together. I learned that it can be very hard to find your tent in a sea of pink tents at 2 a.m. –and even harder at 4 am. That just when you think you can’t make it one more step, if you take a break and change your socks, you can go for miles and miles. That I have wonderful friends and family. That it’s good to have a phone charger with you. That cheering strangers and honking horns can boost your spirits. That so many survivors are so damn young. That so many people were walking for survivors. And too many were walking for those who did not survive. That a Starbucks can save you. That people care and appreciate all the money and awareness we’ve raised. That in Washington, D.C. we raised $5.5 million dollars so that maybe one day we’ll talk about Breast Cancer like we talk about Polio. I learned that the fight is not over. That unfortunately, it’s going to take many more walks and fundraisers. I learned that in the midst of many tears, there is also a hell of a lot of laughter. And to keep going, good music is essential.
I also learned that there are shorter walks. ;-) Next year: 5k.