When I signed up to do the 3-Day, I had two big hurdles to clear; the first, fundraising $2,300, and the second, preparing my body and mind to walk 20 miles three days in a row. While the fundraising initially made me nervous, I was so grateful to see there were plenty of people who were willing to support me. I surpassed $2,300, and today, am hovering at an incredible $3,300 — a number that I KNOW is making a difference for those diagnosed with breast cancer. The next big challenge? Walking. Plenty of people will say, “Oh, it’s just walking.” Sure, it’s just walking, but this isn’t a quick walk through the super market or around the local park. The average person walks less than two miles a day after all their steps have added up. If you’re active, you walk maybe five miles a day. But to walk 10 miles? Amazing. Make it 20? Incredible.
I started adding small daily walks to my routine. I’d walk on my lunch break to the grocery store to buy myself a turkey sandwich, or things to make dinner. I’d walk to the post office with a stack of Thank You notes ready to mail to my donors. I’d walk the block at night, dodging spiderwebs as my husband ran circles around me, laughing as we exchanged sweaty high fives. Slowly, walking became easier. I remember very clearly a 5k I walked last November. During the final mile, my feet were hurting, I was out of breath, and I wanted to quit. My first big accomplishment with training this year was a 6.2 mile walk I did with my friend Jason, and then later, a ten mile walk I did with Jason and Matt. I started tackling longer distances, at one point walking from my house to Michael’s Crafts, five miles up and three towns north. The longest walk I ended up doing was 12 miles, which was a few short of what the 3-Day training program recommends, but I felt confident that I could do at least ten miles each day. So I took that confidence and ran with it (errr, walked with it), and before I knew it, me and my team were boarding a bus in the rain to go to the Opening Ceremony in Del Mar.
The rain stopped just in time for the sun to burst through the clouds, and as my team stood in a sea of pink, we listened to people share their reasons for doing the walk. People walked for their mothers. Their sisters. Their aunts. Their daughters. As I held up a picture of my mother-in-law surrounded by thousands of other people holding pictures of loved ones lost, I was overcome with a sense of grief and anger. This was too many people. Too many lives cut short. However, that anger fueled reminders of why I was here; to make a difference for somebody else facing cancer, and to honor the memory of so many wonderful people that have since moved on. Our first steps out of Del Mar, we were greeted with a magnificent rainbow, glistening in the sky. I felt in that moment that everybody had just received a special reminder that loss is physical, but memories will always live on.
We walked along the coast, marveling at the waves lapping the shore, the sea breeze crisp on our cheeks. Soon, we made it to the first pit stop, where we used the glamorous porta-potties and prepared for the first major hill up Torrey Pines, a nature reserve. I had been hearing about this hill all year long, so I was nervous. However, as I put one foot in front of the other, I realized my body could do a lot more than I thought it could. We climbed up slowly but steadily, turning every now and then to see the San Diego valley in birds eye view. When we made it to the top, we posed for this picture, feeling victorious. Our first major hill: DONE!
From there, we walked through neighborhoods and business parks, and we began to scatter a little bit as we talked with the women and men around us. I met a 76-year-old woman who had walked eight times, and walked for her husband and son she had lost to cancer in the same year. I met a girl my age from Wisconsin, and twin sisters from Arizona who walked for their mom. Everybody at the 3-Day is there for the same reason; cancer. It’s an unpleasant thing to bond over, but at the same time, something pretty special to realize you’re part of a community of people dedicated to making a change. We arrived at the mile 10 marker for lunch, and we were all pretty darn excited to sit and take off our shoes! One thing really cool about the 3-Day is that each official stop, be it Lunch or a Pit Stop, is themed. Lunch was pirate themed, and all the Crew volunteers were in full costume. It’s things like these that made my first 3-Day experience so special: being handed a turkey sandwich by Jack Sparrow, walking past men in bras with miniature watermelons in them with signs that said “Squeeze my melons”, the people that come out to cheer you on as you walk by. I laid on the grass for what felt like a good, long 10 minutes, and then hobbled over to the medical tent. I felt some hot spots and blisters popping up on the fleshy pad of my foot right beneath my toes, and I wanted those suckers wrapped up before they progressed further.
Then, we were off again, and before I knew it, it was back to the glorious coast. At one point we walked through a patch of coast that smelled awful — garbage-like and just rank, when one of the walkers ahead of us said we were nearing a sea lion colony. Sure enough, we came down a hill to see a big rock formation covered in velvety sea lions, barking and frolicking in the water. It was so cool! We ended up meeting my parents along the route shortly after, and it was super fun to see them and get hugs and support at mile 15.
It was shortly after we met up with my parents that I encountered my first big hurdle: an exploding blister. Now, I’ve had plenty of blisters in my adult life. However, the experience of a blister exploding from the sheer weight of all your body, on the fleshy pad of your foot, at mile 16? Totally new and not so awesome experience. At first I didn’t know what it was, other than the fact that my foot suddenly had this searing pain ripping through it. Then as my sock felt squishy, I realized with horror that my giant foot pad blister had popped. GROSS! I ripped off my sock with the enthusiasm of a kid at Christmas, both grossed out and fascinated, and confirmed that sure enough, my blister had called it quits. I decided I’d flag down a sweep van (the 3-Day has nifty themed vans that drive the route to pick up anyone who’s tired, not feeling well, or just wants a break). I hobbled along tentatively, until I got a second wind. Blister? Who cares! That attitude served me well for two more miles, until the broken skin started to feel raw. This was around mile 17, so I took a van for another mile and waited at the pit stop for my sister and Monique to arrive.
Once they showed up, we got more Gatorade and continued our trek. It was dusk and those last few miles were feeling like they would never end, and we were teased along the way by chalk notes on the sidewalk of what the Garmin miles were. Toward the end we saw a Garmin 22 mile mark, so I decided right then and there that despite my quick van ride, I had very much walked 20 miles that day! Finally, we walked into camp — exhausted and stinky, and very much wanting to SIT and never move, ever again. We got dinner, enjoyed the plushy bean bags, massage chairs, trail mix bar, and snacks, and then collected our camp mail. Camp mail is an awesome invention where your loved ones can send you snail mail to pick up during your 60 mile journey. After our relaxation time, we watched an amazing show in the giant dining tent, where we got to hear from moving speakers and hear updates about the day on the route and the next day to come.
Even though at this point I was too exhausted to process anything more than “Macaroni and cheese. Hungry. Tired. Stink. Sleep,” I was able to process the fact that this girl had damn near walked 20 miles in one day. 20 frickin’ miles. That’s no small beans. That’s no laughing matter. That’s a HUGE, GINORMOUS, MASSIVE, LONG distance to walk. That’s only 6.2 less than a marathon, and granted, I wasn’t running (if you see me running, you better run too, ‘cuz something’s chasing me), but ain’t no thang. I walked 20 miles. That’s a lot.
I went to bed that night thinking about some of the things people had sent to me in so many wonderful cards, letters, and notes. Things like, “When it gets hard, remember… your body can do amazing things. Your legs are strong, your hips are flexing, and your heart will carry through.” Or, “Thank you for walking, thank you for making a difference, thank you for being my friend.” Or, “You inspire me every day to love myself just as I am.” With sentiments like that, how could I not close my teary eyes and glow with gratitude?
I drifted into a deep sleep, heart full of the amazing things I had seen and felt that day. Vibrant. Alive. Proud. Thankful. These feelings carry you far and wide, as beautiful and inspiring as the rainbow, as vivid and real as the blister, as simple and profound as the smile of a survivor cheering from the sidelines. These things were Day 1 of the 3-Day.