Thursday, July 26, 2012

Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, San Francisco, 2012

Earlier this month, I walked in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Like many participants, I did so for the family members and friends who have battled the disease. Many supported me, helped me reach and exceed my fundraising goals, and cheered me on through my months of training.

The two-day, 40-mile walk that capped these efforts was many things: exciting, humbling, emotional, grueling, inspirational, exhausting, exhilarating. I arrived on event eve a bit of a nervous wreck. I left the closing ceremonies with a busted knee, a bunch of miles under my belt, and an insane appreciation for the power and perseverance of the human body. When I thought I couldn't walk any more, I saw the survivor to my left taking one more step towards the end. Or I was buoyed by a cheering squad blasting dance music from their stereo. Or the woman moving slowly up the hill in step with me kept me talking until we reached the top together.

As many of you know, I am not an extreme athlete or team sport champ, so this event, equal parts camaraderie and endurance, was a completely new experience for me. As a thank you to those who supported me along the way and helped me get to the finish line, I put together this photo essay in the hope that these pictures convey some of what the day was like.
We arrived to the opening ceremony at Fort Mason on an early, foggy Saturday morning. Thankfully they had coffee for us. These pillars travel to each city where a walk is being held. Walkers could sign their city's section as they waited for the ceremony to begin, as you can see in the close-up below. The pillar becomes sort of a big, blow-up yearbook of the event.
As people waited, they could also text messages to a special number, which would then show up on the big screen on stage. Many people walked in teams, and their entire group would cheer loudly when their message showed up.
We began the opening ceremony with some very necessary stretches...
then began the walk. The streets were a sea of pink. Check out the pink bunny ears on the right-hand side, and the pink leis in the crowd.
As I mentioned above, lots of people walked in teams, and there were some pretty fun names: The Breast Friends, SacraTitties, Dudettes for Boobettes. These are the Bosom Buddies, complete with shiny pink superhero capes.
 But the walkers weren't the only ones who dressed for the day. We also had ride-along bike cops from San Jose. This guy bravely donned a pink tutu, and the boombox on the back of his bike helped us get revved up for the day.
 We also had the help of the Moto Crew, a group of bikers who helped direct traffic at crosswalks and streetlights. This guy had an amazing pink mohawk attached to his helmet.
 The Moto Crew was one of my favorite parts of the event. They really went all out, even decorating their bikes. Here's a fabulous pink helmet that made me think of my Auntie Luvy, a bad-ass biker herself.
 Each crew member would help all walkers get across a certain crosswalk, then ride to another part of the trail to help again. We saw the same bikers again and again over the two days, and by the end of the event, I felt like I knew them. I first saw this bike early on, then was able to snap its picture later in the day.
 Yes, the bra cups are two different sizes. The sign doesn't lie.
I took this picture of a sister and daughter, both walking for Jane, while waiting for a green light. A lot of the early walk was spent waiting at crosswalks. Consequently, when the crowd thinned out I kicked my pace into a higher gear, which is probably what caused my knee problems later on. I would not recommend walking at 4mph up what must have been the steepest hill in San Francisco.

Here, we walk up a slightly less steep hill as we enter Chinatown. It was so early that almost no one else was awake...except for us, of course.
 Another great part of the walk were the rest stops. These stops made me realize how incredibly well-run this event was. About every 3-5 miles, they provided us with bathrooms, food and drinks, and first aid if needed. An added bonus...they were themed! Here's the Dudes for Boobs Dude Ranch, near the Presidio:
 This pile of tires marked the way to the Pit...I mean Tit Stop. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, which I will cross twice by the end of the walk. This stop was my favorite, probably because it marked the end of my walk on day 2. Also, they had Cheezits.
More evidence of the impressive planning behind the walk, these Sweep Vans, driven by volunteers, also followed us throughout the day. If anyone was hurt or got sick, they could grab a ride to the next first aid station or to the end of the route. As with the rest stops, these were also themed. Here's a flower-power Sweep Van, complete with butterfly antennae:
 As you can tell from the previous photos, it was a beautiful, sunny day...until we got to the Bridge, that is. Shrouded in fog and buffeted by wind and crowds of tourists, we all somehow made it across...
 to sunny Sausalito.
Isaac met me here with some life-saving pizza. He walked with me for about four miles before he had to catch the ferry back to the city. After he left, and despite the power of pizza grease, I literally began to feel the pain, so I didn't take many more pictures of the day. Our route took us through Sausalito, past Mt. Tamalpais and Mill Valley, to Corte Madera. Hippies for Hope was a rest stop near the end of the day, complete with peace signed portapotties.
The day's route ended in Corte Madera Town Park. I was thrilled and achy. I popped some Advil, did some stretches, then headed back to the city via shuttle bus for a well-deserved shower and corned beef sandwich at Lefty O'Doul's. The shuttle back was an option you had to pay extra for, and most walkers camped in the park. Here's a picture of the pink tent city Sunday morning:
 And here's a picture of the Moto Crew bikes, ready to go for Day 2:
 I didn't take many pictures on Day 2. My knee hurt all day, even after the bandage and plenty of pain killers. I was moving slow, and it took pretty much all of my concentration to keep going. I did, however, take some time out for the Hookers for Hooters, a Sweep Van with attitude. Though, I guess I only caught one "hooker" on the right.
 This picture perfectly captures how I felt by lunchtime of Day 2. It was foggy and freezing all day long. Many, including myself, had these mylar blankets wrapped around them or stuffed under their windbreakers for insulation.
 The crowd this day was much more subdued and introspective. Maybe others were in pain like I was. People were using the first aid supplies a lot more on Sunday, and I saw a lot of taped up knees and ankles. But we were all determined to finish. That bridge in the distance? It was my final hurdle.
I thought it was cold and windy on Saturday; I was wrong. The wind on Sunday pushed us sideways. I was taking small steps because I was afraid with my injury that I would get blown over. This meant that it was taking me forever to get to the other side. It was, in a word, miserable.

But I did it. I made it off the bridge and I was so relieved that I hugged the Moto Crew member directing walkers on the other side. I think he had a pink mustache.

For some reason, the shuttle to the end dropped off at the bottom of a hill, which we had to climb to reach the finish line. I thought I was going to cry. But this amazing woman walked with me...we were almost crawling to the top...and we made it. Another amazing woman hugged me at the top. Somehow I hobbled across the finish line, where I did finally collapse into tears.

I was pretty much a mess for the rest of the event. I cried some more, then laughed hysterically at weird things. This whole extreme exhaustion thing was all new to me. Isaac brought crab louie and beer, which were probably the best crab louie and beer I'd ever had. Then the closing ceremony started. That's me below, in the puffy orange vest, during the ceremony with the rest of the 2000 walkers.
According to Avon, the San Francisco walkers raised over $4.8 million dollars, some of which was granted to bay area organizations involved in patient care, screening, and breast cancer research. Those of you that donated and that helped spread the word, asking others to donate, you helped do this. You also helped me get through those long hours and across the finish line. And you helped me honor these women:

Thank you.