Monday, August 6, 2007

And now, for something totally different...

For those of you who are Monty Python fans, you might expect something completely off the beaten path, quirky, and perhaps down-right hilarious. This post is definitely off my usual topical rant, but it's important. It's about engaging in giving back to one's community, making a difference and gold old-fashioned volunteerism.

This past weekend, I was a participant in the 3-Day Walk for Cancer Research. I will not lie; it was the hardest thing I have ever physically endured. Officially, my walking partner and I walked 60 miles over the course of three days as a symbolic way to bring light to the fight against breast cancer. Collectively, the 200o people who walked raised $5 million. Amazing. We walked in 100 degree plus weather. It was hard.

Unofficially, it turns out they mis-measured the route, and it turns out we walk almost 67 miles. In a car, 7 miles is not that big of a deal. But one look at my feet should illustrate otherwise. I'll save you all the pictures. Let's just say I have awful blisters and am going to lose at least one toenail. And you won't believe the aches and pains I have been dealing with the last few days. But it's nothing compared to what people suffer when they have breast cancer.

We slept in tents. We walked as long as 11 hours a day. I was up earlier than I've been since I taught public school. I used a port-a-john for 3 days. And while I didn't love that part of it, I have a new perspective about a lot of things.

There was a guy walking who lost his son to SIDS, and his daughter at a very young age to breast cancer. When she was young, they used to mountain climb and hike together. He now carries the stick that she wrapped in ribbons, with him on every 3-Day walk that he attends so she can "walk" with him. Rumor has it that he is going to walk all 12 walks this year.

There was the soldier who's sister had breast cancer. He was deployed to Iraq. He requested to do the walk in Baghdad, but was told it was too dangerous. Instead, the army gave him a furlough and he was able to walk with one of his other sisters. He wore a uniform, including combat boots, dyed pink. He carried a flag and cried for his sister. Here's a picture of him. It's lousy, but you get the idea:

There was the woman who walked while her sister was home, dying of breast cancer. She had lost the toenail on her big toe, was told it was probably not going to grow back, and she walked anyway. For her sister. And every time I saw her, she smiled at me and congratulated me on how far I'd come.

Then there was the woman who was in a serious car accident that broke bones in her feet, her ankles, and dislocated both her big toes. I am amazed at the fact that she was able to walk again, let alone walk the long distances she did. She didn't finish every day, but she'll be back next year. She's a special ed teacher and absolutely amazing to me. I'm hoping that we get to meet again and maybe even walk together. She has family in the area, so I am sure I will get to see her again soon.

I don't know many people who have suffered through the horror of breast cancer. No one in my family has had it. But the people I met on this walk have given me a lot to think about. We raised FIVE MILLION DOLLARS with one weekend's walk. There are eleven more this year. Imagine the power in that. I am not a sappy person, and not led easily into sentiment. But this was powerful for me.

I think the most amazing thing was watching my walking partner. She refused to give up. She started this as a means to make a change in her life. I hopped on board to support her. Let's be honest, walking 60 miles over the course of a weekend is not my idea of fun. As I've said all along, it's easier to run 10 miles than it is to walk 10 miles. I still stand by that assertion. But my walking partner was an inspiration to me. I don't think she's aware of just how much she is.

I haven't decided if I will do this again next year. I'm still aching and simply thinking about what I've learned about myself and the power of people when they identify a problem and decide to do something about it. But I do know that it has made a difference in what I see around me. And that's pretty powerful stuff.

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