The weekend of the walk arrived and our team stood, teeth chattering, in the dark morning at Northpoint Mall in Alpharetta. In the parking lot. We gathered in front of the C truck, as we were in tent row C and had to drop off bags off there. Some of us met in person for the first time.
After the sun rose and the opening ceremony marked the start of the walk, it was a slow shuffle out of the parking lot. Just us 12 and 3, 788 other walkers as well as roughly 400 crew members. "Gum?" one of my teammates said to another, proffering a pack of little square gum pellets. "No thanks" she responded "I can't walk and chew gum." I thought "this is going to be a delightful group." I was right.
The weather behaved flawlessly, sunny, warm-but-not-hot and cloudless. It was perfect walking weather. By the end of the first day's journey we were still feeling as though we were just getting started. We chatted away while setting up tents. We were thrilled to discover that there was an entire tent dedicated to foot massages. Not by humans but by those electronic devices you always see beckoning to you from the front of the Brookstone as you pass by. The showers were actually not bad. Even the food wasn't bad. Not that I was hungry. People hand food out to the walkers the entire length of the route. We were never in danger of fainting from lack of calories.
By the end of the second day people were visibly limping all around us. One of my teammates had 4 blisters on one foot. Time to call in the big guns. Joy called Steve and he very kindly brought us 3 bottles of wine, 12 plastic cups and a wine opener which we sneaked back into camp. As we lounged in front of our little tent neighborhood, drinking wine, our teammate Vickie produced a bag full of rocks that had been shined and engraved with meaningful words. "Everyone take one!" she invited. I peered in the bag and although my hand hovered over "success" for a moment, I landed finally on "gratitude" and I clutched it, thinking I am never at risk of having too much of that. We all told each other what we got - "I got a rock" I said.
One of us was celebrating a birthday that day and after decorating her tent in the morning with signs and tinsel and decorating her with signs and a tiara that she gallantly wore all day, we still had cake to serve up after dinner, so we headed over to the mess tent where they fed and entertained us.
Announcements, a funny little fashion show of items from the lost and found, more announcements and then some words from a couple of our fellow walkers. The woman who captained one of the largest teams spoke. She was followed by a woman, 28, who is a breast cancer survivor. She started off with the tale discovering she had breast cancer just when she and her husband were moving to a new city and trying to start a family. She was so upbeat and positive it was a little difficult to reconcile her tone with her story. She told us about harvesting eggs so one day they might still have a child, all the chemo, hair loss, weight gain and finally she got around to what the 3-Day has meant to her. It's only her second 3-Day walk, she told us, but from the moment she arrived at her first one she knew she'd being doing them for a long time.
She didn't cry until she started to talk about the thousands of people who walk, the supporters who line the streets to say thank-you and cheer the walkers on, and the crew who never stop taking care of us walkers all weekend long... The 3-Day raises a lot of money for breast cancer research, detection and treatment ($6.6 million in Atlanta this year alone) but the event itself seems to be keeping this woman going.
As she spoke I thought of how easy it had been for me to train for this event. I thought of my two healthy babies not to mention my two healthy boobs. I thought about my wonderful husband, my cozy home, my good job, the long list of people I love who are alive and well, all of you who donated to my walk and cheered me on the whole time I trained and I thought of my rock.
Everyone on my team walked all three days injury-free (save the blisters). We met at the finish and celebrated our accomplishment by ceremoniously lacing our shoes with the pink laces New Balance gave us and by drinking the beer I got Jeremiah to bring us (notice a theme with the husbands here...) The women on my team all talked together like old friends and made plans to do the walk again next year. I kept my rock in my pocket the whole day. Since the walk I've been keeping it in my laptop bag.
Sometimes I think back to right before I did the 2-Day in New York when my friend said to me "you've raised all the money, why bother doing the actual walk?" I have to selfishly admit, raising the money is for everyone but doing the walk is for me.