November 10, 2010

3 Days. 60 Miles. 1 Cure.

Well....we did it! The Dallas/Ft. Worth Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure has come and gone. And what an amazing experience it was. People keep asking me if I had fun, and my answer is always something like "Well...not really. But it was awesome." It was hard. It was painful. It was emotional. It was surreal. Maybe next year it'll be more "fun," since I know what to expect now. :)

FYI, this is going to be a long blog post, so just grab a cup of coffee and settle in for the long haul. It's impossible to be succinct about such an experience, so I'm not even going to try.

First of all, here's a picture of the route we took, from the 3-Day website (hopefully if you click on it, you can see it larger):

Team "Breast Friendz," made up of myself, Anna, and her friend from high school, Adrianne, met at Anna's house on Thursday night and started getting all of our stuff packed up. We were allowed one bag, not to exceed 35lbs in weight, so we had to get pretty creative with our packing. There was a lot of pink in that living room...

Then we were up dark bright and early at 5am the next morning so we could get to Collin Creek Mall in Plano, Texas in time to get our bags on the gear trucks, sign in, and get ready for the Opening Ceremonies! It was VERY chilly that morning, but we would've much rather had cold mornings and beautiful days than hot or rainy weather the whole time.

The Opening Ceremony was quite emotional. What you see in the picture below is a ring of breast cancer survivors carrying flags and surrounding a flag pole, on which was raised a string of white ribbons with the names of those who lost the fight written on them. There's a video at the bottom of this post of the survivors marching in. There wasn't a dry eye in that whole parking lot. These women WALKED WITH US. Can you even imagine? It was hard enough for those of us not fighting cancer to walk all those miles! It blows my mind how strong people are.

After the Opening Ceremony, we were off on Day 1! Some of the first things we noticed along the route were the Sweep Vans (pictured below). Each van had a different theme. They drove along the route, playing music and yelling out encouragement to us. They served to transport walkers from the route to the next Pit Stop if necessary. Unfortunately, I had to make use of one of these vans at one point, but more on that later... All a walker had to do was throw up his or her arms in an "X" formation when a Sweep Van passed by, and they would stop immediately and pick up the walker.

Every few miles along the route there was a Grab & Go or a Pit Stop. The Grab & Go stations had Porta-Potties and beverages (water and Gatorade), and the Pit Stops had Porta-Potties, beverages, snacks (fruit, Lara bars, the AMAZING Grahamwiches, etc.) and medical tents for blister treatment, chiropractic and sports medicine (wrapping joints, etc.). These Pit Stops were usually a very welcome sight. It was nice to just be able to sit for a minute, rehydrate, and stretch and enjoy the walkers....and of course, take a few pics!

One of the most motivating and invigorating parts of the route each day was coming up on cheering stations. There were "official" cheering stations, where there would sometimes be hundreds of people lining the route cheering us on. They had signs, pom-poms, candy, water, snacks, HUGS, name it, they had it. They yelled and screamed for us and thanked every single walker that passed by. It was hard not to get a bit choked up every time we came up on a cheering station. The biggest one was at Valley View Mall on Day 2....the line of cheerers and supporters extended over a mile. THESE people made it so much easier to keep going and temporarily forget about the foot pain and the aching muscles. Some people, like the two guys below, showed up at every single cheering station:

After 10 miles on Day 1, we stopped for lunch. We rested our feet, changed our socks, and got quite a delicious meal served to us while music was blaring and volunteers and crew members walked around and filled up our water bottles for us with cold water and Gatorade. It was very hard to put the shoes and socks back on and gear up for another 9 you can see, I just wanted to stay sitting there and let my feet rest! :)

This is where Day 1 got hard for me. My left ankle started bothering me on the stretch right after lunch, which was about a 3.5 mile stretch. The crew was very adamant about walkers taking care of medical problems before they got too bad, so I stopped at the medical tent at Pit Stop #4 and told the medical guy my problem. He wrapped up my ankle for me with a pink bandage and pink tape, and we set off for the last 6 miles of the day. Well...after about a mile, Anna noticed that I was limping. I was in a lot of pain, and after some urging, I flagged down a Sweep Van and got on it to the next Pit Stop, where I boarded a bus that took me right to camp. I was so disappointed that I couldn't finish the day, but I wanted to make sure I had some gas left in the tank for the next two days.

This is what we saw when we got to camp: Pink Tent City! Since I was waiting for Anna and Adrianne to finish up the day's miles, I put up mine and Anna's tent (yay me! Indoor Girl pitched a tent!) and just sat in it and felt sorry for myself and waited for my teammates.

Anna snapped this pic of me when she got back to camp! Gotta love that pink glow! That's a fake smile, in case you were wondering, because I was so bummed out about being hurt.

I visited the medical tent at camp and just couldn't stop crying because I was so upset. There were two people there that just hugged the crap out of me and sat with me while I got my ankle iced down (owwwwwww!!!) and told me how amazing it was that I was even there. Seriously, this crew of volunteers, along the route, at camp and the medical staff, was a Godsend. I have never met kinder people in my entire life.

After dinner (which was a hot meal, both nights, and VERY yummy), we got our stuff together and went to the showers. I was very curious about what the shower situation was going to be like. They were on trucks! Each truck had about 5 or 6 showers in them, with deliciously hot water and a curtained off area for dressing/undressing in front of each one. That shower was the best thing ever.

You guys, I am not gonna lie...that night. was. rough. We were in our tents ready to sleep by 9pm, but I didn't fall asleep until after 10:30. It was at least 30 degrees outside and we were absolutely freezing. I was bundled up in a sleeping bag with a beanie on my head and using a sweatshirt for a pillow (remember that bag and it's weight limit? no room for a pillow) and my ankle was throbbing. I turned on my phone at one point and sent my husband a text message that said I was miserable and wanted to come home! Of course, being the awesome guy that he is, he immediately responded and told me to hang in there, and that he loved me and was incredibly proud of me. He's a good guy; I think I'll keep him. :)

The next morning, we were frozen like popsicles, but we got up and got some breakfast and I hobbled over to the medical tent to have my foot looked at again. I got it re-taped and it was really tight and uncomfortable. I couldn't even step on it without shaking and crying. I was uncomfortable, but I thought, "I'm not a doctor; these guys know what they're doing," so I didn't say anything about the taping. This was my face when I finally conceded that I should just take the bus straight to lunch and miss the first 10 miles of the day's walk:

I felt like such a failure because I couldn't walk. I turned on my phone on the bus to lunch and was just inundated with Facebook posts, tweets, texts, etc. from my amazing friends who all encouraged me and lifted me up and told me they were praying for me. I swear I felt all those prayers, and they were answered...because when the medical crew arrived at the lunch location, I was led to a chiropractic student who had volunteered to work on the medical crew for the event. Her name was Mandy (!!! coincidence?? I think not!) and she was my angel. She had the sweetest and kindest face, and she encouraged me, listened to me, and took so much time to really check out my feet. She noticed that the tape job I'd gotten at camp was actually hurting me more, and causing swelling, so she took it off and put all this pretty stuff on me:

It looks just like it was arbitrarily placed on me, doesn't it? But in actuality, it was all very deliberate. She finished taping me up and said, "Now stand up and tell me how that feels." It was unbelievable. I still had some pain and soreness, but it felt probably 10 million times better. She also told me that there was no tendon or ligament damage and that it was just sore/bruised muscles...and that I definitely could walk if I felt up to it, it would just probably hurt. She advised me to really stretch at each stop and to ice my feet when I got back to camp that night. Mandy was my ANGEL! She gave me one more huge hug, and I happily waited for Anna and Adrianne to meet me at lunch so that I could tell them about it and join them for the rest of the afternoon!

After lunch, we started off on the final 10 miles of Day 2. As we approached one of the official cheering stations, I suddenly heard LOUD SCREAMING...I should have known that the one and only Stephanie was the loudest person in Dallas and it had to be her. :) My two friends Stephanie (left) and Ashley (right) had driven to a cheering station to wait for us! It absolutely blew my mind and warmed my heart so much that they did this for me. I can't even tell you how amazing and uplifting it was to see them!

I was so glad to be able to walk that afternoon...I can't even describe how much better I felt. My feet still hurt quite a bit, but just knowing that I wasn't doing any lasting damage to them and just being with my teammates again was so rewarding. It was totally weird to be walking across major highways, though walking on 635 was probably faster than driving it EVER is:

It was so great to be able to walk back into camp with my teammates that evening. Since I had to take the van the day before, I had missed walking past all the flags into camp. I had to stop and pose with the flag that said "My Aunt," because my sweet Aunt Vickie was one of the main reasons why I was at the event in the first place. She was heavy on my mind the whole weekend, and every time it got hard, I just remembered how hard she fought. I hope she was proud of me this weekend (ugh...just typing it makes me cry all over again):

It was also awesome to watch people coming into camp. The picture below just shows how hardcore people really were. There's a girl in a wheelchair (who has to be a huge badass for pushing herself 60 miles and her friends are also amazing for pushing her chair when she got tired or needed help), and there is a woman being helped in by her two teammates. This event really did kind of restore my faith in humanity...people really can be awesome:

As I was instructed by Mandy, I did ice my feet that night. I swear the ice was way more painful than the sore least at first. Luckily I just went numb after a few minutes:

That second night wasn't quite as cold, but we were still pretty chilly! The next morning, the line for the medical tent was soooooo long. There were some sore feet and bad blisters to be had. Anna, Adri and I were pretty lucky....we were sore and each had a small blister or two, but nothing like some people had:

I got to skip the long line because I just needed to see the chiropractors and have my K-tape fixed (some of it was coming off after 10 miles and a hot shower the night before), and the line for the chiropractors was practically non-existent. I walked into the medical tent and immediately saw Mandy, who waved me over. I damn near knocked her over with a hug because I was so grateful to her. She fixed up my tape and sent me on my way and told me she'd see me at the finish line!

We were bussed to the start of Day 3's route, but Anna wanted us to stop and take a picture in front of the Day 2 sign (they hadn't changed it out yet for Day 3):

Day 3 was tough. It was our shortest day ("only" 15 miles), but we were all very sore. The Pit Stops were closer together than other days...about 2 to 2.5 miles apart. We'd get going, warm up the muscles and be okay for a while, but by the end of those couple of miles each time we were really hobbling and struggling. Luckily, Day 3 was also our most visually stimulating day. We walked through some beautiful areas:

And there were more friends along the route that showed up at cheering stations to encourage us and keep us motivated. Anna's friend Susie, for one, came by for a hug and of course...a few pictures:

After lunch, we knew we were in the home stretch. Only 5.2 miles until the finish line. By the way, we also learned that one of the worst things you can say to a walker is that they're "almost there." Rarely is it actually true. Haha!

After walking through beautiful and historic downtown Dallas (we went through the West End, through Dealey Plaza, past the Old Red Courthouse, the Kennedy Memorial, Pioneer Plaza, to name just a few) and through Deep Ellum, we finally arrived at our final destination, which was Fair Park. Anna snapped this GREAT picture of me walking across the street and getting a high-five and a squeeze of the hand from the crossing guard:

Arriving at Fair Park was so emotional. Just knowing that we did it and we finished and we didn't have to walk anymore (well...not in order to finish the route anyway)....I can't even explain that feeling. Relief, exhaustion, accomplishment, you name it and you can see it on these faces:

We were then led into the "holding area" at the Cotton Bowl, where lines of people yelled and cheered for us all along the way. We each got a pink rose and our official 3-Day for the Cure t-shirts (anybody who knows me knows that I LOVE me some long-sleeved t-shirts!). Of course we had to pose in front of the official Day-3 sign!

After the last walker(s) arrived (to RAUCOUS applause and cheering), we were all corraled together to get ready to walk into the Closing Ceremonies. Before that, though, all of the survivors were asked to leave first so that they could walk in together. As the survivors, who had walked all 60 miles along with us, left the holding area, they played "We Are the Champions." And of course there were more tears.

All 3800 walkers marched together into the Cotton Bowl Plaza, and we were surrounded on both sides by cheering family, friends, and our amazing crew and volunteers who had been there for us every single step of the way. I found Mandy along the way and gave her a hug (can you BELIEVE I'm so stupid that I didn't get ONE picture with her?? Uggggghhhhh!).

The Closing Ceremony was incredible. The survivors surrounded the flagpole again, and all the walkers took off a shoe and raised it to them in salute (cue even more waterworks).

This is probably my very favorite picture of the 3 of us from the whole weekend. These are real smiles (not just our "Game Face smiles" that we had most of that last day), and it just brings back that incredible feeling that I felt that day every time I look at it:

My husband and my dad were both at the Closing Ceremony, which meant the world to me. I don't ever want to TELL someone to show up and be there for may sound passive/passive-aggressive, but they should kinda just know after an event like this that their support and solidarity for what I'm doing is important to me. So to see my Dad there and know that he was thinking of his dad (my Papa) and sister (Aunt Vickie)...that was just amazing. Michael's support and cheerleading via text message that whole weekend held me together, too. I would have bailed out that first night, probably, if not for him. My husband had also cleaned the house for me while I was gone, and he brought me these amazing pink flowers...what a sweet guy:

I didn't even know it was possible to sleep as well as I did on Sunday night in my OWN bed after taking a deliciously hot shower that wasn't on a truck. I had the foresight to have taken Monday off, too, so I went and had a spa pedicure for my poor, sore feet. It was quite possibly the most unbelievable feeling ever...I was almost moaning during the foot and calf massage part of the pedicure. Haha! Of course, I got pink polish:

So, there it is. People keep asking me if I'm going to do it again next year. After writing this post, putting the pics up and captioning them on Facebook, etc....I think the answer is "yes!" I just cannot imagine sitting at home next year knowing that it's going on and that I'm not a part of it.

I'm not gonna tell my feet for another few weeks, though, so keep quiet. ;)

If you have any questions or have ever thought about doing this, let me encourage you to just try it. You can do it. If I can, so can you. I won't sugar coat it and tell you it's easy or even fun at times. But the reward is so great! And hopefully, one day, as the video below says (I think), there will be a time when we don't even need to do it anymore because we will have raised enough money to find a cure.

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