Food for the Soul
It all comes down to cookies. The chocolate wafer kind, mint-flavored with a delicate chocolate coating and sealed in a rectangular green box. The world knows them as Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. I know them as my nemesis.
When I was in Girl Scouts, I dreaded going door-to-door in the Girl Scout’s famous annual fundraiser. I had to knock on the door of someone I didn’t know, interrupting that stranger to ask him or her to peruse my list of cookies and order some, and then I had to go back a few weeks later, lugging around stacks of cookie boxes that my mother had taped together and labeled in our garage, and then they had to give me money. The act of just knocking took everything I had. Yet door-to-door I went for a good seven years, by my guesstimation. I felt the cause was good, and it was just part of the deal in being a Girl Scout. I couldn’t very well opt out and still wear my green dress and sash. I sold Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos, Kookaburras and Cabana Cremes, Savannahs and Pecan Shortees, Hoedowns and Scotch Teas. Eventually, I could do it no more. I quit Girl Scouts for the sole reason that I could no longer bear to ask people to buy cookies from me. I’m just not wired for a career in sales. When I decided to participate in the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk a couple of months ago, I knew I would be stepping out of my comfort zone. I’d be asking people for money again. But there’s no arguing that this cause is good, that this cause is urgent, that this cause is one I believed in. Plus, now I got to wear pink instead of green. So I did it, I joined a 3-Day team and launched my venture on my blog and in an email to friends and family with the admission of my childhood Thin Mint trauma.
So it was with a smile on my face and a shake of my head that I walked into a pit stop during this weekend’s 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day and encountered a table of Girl Scouts generously handing out handfuls of Thin Mints to exhausted walkers. Was that a sign or what?
This weekend’s 3-Day walk was amazing. The event, which included over 3,800 walkers and hundreds of volunteer staff, raised $9.5 million for breast cancer research, treatment, prevention, and awareness. Isn’t that stunning? My team of five triplet mommies ushered in $12,514 from generous donators. My sincerest, heartiest thanks go out to every one who contributed to this astounding outcome.
60 miles in 3 days. What was it like to walk that much? My answer: Surprisingly entertaining. I’d heard that walking in this event would be emotional and fulfilling. I’d always assumed that came from knowing the reason for walking and from being among thousands of likeminded and determined women for three days. What I didn’t figure in was the empowering crowd factor. Thousands of people lined the walking route, every day and all day, cheering and handing out goodies and supplies and waving signs that said stuff like, “35 year survivor – thank you for walking for me.” They wore costumes. They danced. They painted themselves pink from head to toe and gave out free hugs and thought of the funniest slogans and gimmicks. Every age, from infants in arms to the elderly in wheelchairs, was represented, and the men were as numerous as the ladies. Even Elmo and Cookie Monster were there!
The outpouring of community support stunned me. Those cheers and high fives turned the pain in my feet and legs into mere white noise at the back of my mind. The short stretches where the walking path was inaccessible to supporters and their cars were the longest, and most painful, stretches of the walk. Suddenly there was nothing to think about but the pain in our feet, the aches in our muscles, and how much we needed to use that port-a-potty at the next pit stop. But then we’d turn a corner or go up a hill and on the other side would be another long stretch, only, this one was lined as far as the eye could see with supporters cheering on our seemingly endless line of pink walkers.
Yes, this weekend was emotional and fulfilling, but it was also hilarious and raucous and fun. I can see why walkers do this over and over again, and why those who choose not to walk again will volunteer in camp or line the route as cheerers. It’s a great thing to be a part of.
I walked with three other amazing women, all mothers of five- and six-year-old triplets (plus two bonus babies). Hence the back of our team shirts: “Got triplets?” with three breast cancer ribbons lined up underneath.
Unfortunately, the fifth member of our team had to pull out late the night before the walk due to extreme sickness, but the rest of us walked each day, some on blisters and rash-covered feet. I had one blister on a baby toe, but a simple blister bandage did the trick with that little annoyance. My battle was with the foot tenderness and leg stiffness that comes from setting your feet down over and over again for sixty miles. And I must admit, that ‘tenderness’ fell into the “excruciating” category with more frequency as the miles ticked away. No lie, no exaggeration, my dogs were BARKING. One of our teammates, Cheryl, had the foresight to load her iPod with great tunes and buy portable speakers, so we danced periodically, just for the heck of it, telling the pain in our bodies to take a hike. The majority of that battle was a mental one. Do you know the “Cha Cha Slide”? I sure do now! Together we sang and jigged and high-fived the supporters lining the route. Girls in a pack tend to get like that, don’t they?
My second challenge was walking with a cold that caused me to lose my voice on the second day. Sleeping two nights in a pink tent probably didn’t help. Still, I was warm and cozy in my borrowed mountaineer sleeping bag (and in my long johns under sweats and my ski hat and my ski gloves and my long-sleeved shirt under my sweatshirt and my neck warmer and my two pairs of thick socks), so I slept long and hard each of those nights.
And the camp had surprisingly good, hot showers. Big long trailers with ten showers each kept us all from getting funky; I was grateful for that. And we had good food and fun entertainment in camp and even a camp store that stocked lip balm. Those Breast Cancer 3-Day people think of every detail!
One of the details they thought of was our walking badge. It was barcoded for quick scanning at the start and close of each day of walking, and it was our ticket to the dining areas, pit stops, and camp access. I wore mine every day, all day, because, in addition to identifying me should I pass out and be unable to talk, its plastic sleeve held drawings my sons had made for me, a pink tent, a white rectangle, a long piece of cut paper, and the names of every one of the people who contributed to the Cause through me. To represent the hundreds of generous people who contributed through our Pink Lemonade Project stands, I also included “the Pink Lemonade Stand friends” on the tag. With that name tag card, the donators walked with me every step of the way.
And those steps were sure many. So were the hours. The first day’s 20.1 miles took us eleven hours to complete. Gads! I never expected that. Honestly, I thought we’d be done shortly after lunch. After all, the walk started before the sun came up! However, by a strange stroke of (bad?) luck, we were pretty much the last walkers to file out of the Opening Ceremonies barricades on Day 1. We had to wait a full hour to get through to the open road, and then it took hours for the final group to unclog enough for us to walk at full stride. That slow start dominoed on us, bringing us into camp in the dark, just two minutes ahead of the last walker. The next morning we made sure to get an earlier start and finished in about seven hours, with lots of daylight still left. That was much better on the psyche!
My good friend from junior high, Jennie, suffered no such logjam. She was up front and finished each day early enough to get numbers like “Finisher #55″. Yowza! Jennie was there walking in memory of her mother, Diane, who’d lost her fight with breast cancer a few years ago. Good friend that she is, Jennie very generously invited us to walk with her and her teammate even after hearing about our slow finish the day before. But the More the Merrier Walkers for Knockers team knows what league they fall into, and it is not the league that comes with trophies with inscriptions like “Finisher #55″, so we respectfully declined.
Our families surprised us throughout the route, showing up at pit stops and along grassy stretches of the walk to hug us and cheer for us and then to pull us back to our feet after we’d sat down and stiffened up. My boys and husband tried to be there as we walked through the final gates of Petco Park on Day 3, but they missed us by minutes. Luckily, my sons are good at climbing trees, so when we marched back out those gates and on to Closing Ceremonies with 3,800 other walkers, it was easy to spot the Halverson men.
I was very glad my sons got to be there for this part of the event. They spent five weekends selling lemonade at our Pink Lemonade Project lemonade stand. Now they got to see that their efforts were a part of something far bigger. For them, being at Closing Ceremonies brought their first philanthropic experience full circle. They had so many questions about the people they saw there, the walkers on crutches, the cheering ladies with the bald heads, the colorful walking team of fifteen teenage boys who marched past them arm in arm. I was so very proud of those teen boys, of my little boys, and of all the other triplets in our team family who’d given up their weekends to help folks they didn’t know. I had a huge photo of the lemonade stand gang mounted outside my pink tent to show my gratitude for our triplets’ help and for the inspiration that they provided us.
What mom doesn’t want to make the world a better and safer place for her children? As my tent sign said, sometimes the biggest inspiration comes in the smallest package.
So there you have it, in a little more than a nutshell, my experience with the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk. I am proud to have participated in this effort. On Day 2 my team was honored to carry the Breast Cancer 3-Day “Challenges” flag for a portion of the walk, and somehow it felt right to us. Each of us overcame challenges great and small, life-altering and life-affirming, to be in that long pink line of inspirational walkers (the least of which was probably my cookie-induced childhood trauma). With the help and encouragement of so many supporters, we feel like we were able to take a few good shots in the big battle against breast cancer. One of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure slogans is “A world without breast cancer.” Today, we’re all sixty miles closer to making that slogan a reality.