Four years ago, I drove to Chicago to walk in my first Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I’d done my fundraising, I’d prepped myself by taking long walks to train my body to get used to these long walking distances, I even borrowed a sleeping bag thinking I’d actually camp out in the Avon Wellness Village after Day 1 (I didn’t. But y’all probably knew that). I drove down on Friday and on Saturday morning, bright and early, I set out to meet my team at the starting area at Soldier Field.
And when I say “meet my team”, I really mean meet my team.
I’d never met them face-to-face before that morning. Sure, we’d corresponded via Twitter and email, but nope, before that day we’d never spent a single second in each others’ presence… and somehow we were going to walk 39.3 miles side by side.
And you know what? It was a tremendous leap of faith for them to invite me to join them and for me to actually go. And sometimes it’s good to leap, because I’ve never for a single second or a single foot blister been sorry I went.
I walked again the next year.
And the next year after that I flew to San Francisco to walk.
And this year I flew to Boston.
In between all those times? Those women who were my teammates that first morning became my friends. I’m not sure who said it this weekend – if it was Debbie or Barbara – imagine if I hadn’t gone that first year, if we’d have never met, then we wouldn’t have each other.
I suppose you could argue that none of us would know what we were missing – but knowing now what I know about them, I know that there would be a hole in my heart where those friendships belong had I not ever gotten to meet them.
Walking long distances is tough – I’ve heard it’s tougher than running (but seeing as how I don’t think I’ll ever opt to run that far on purpose, I’ll have to take other people’s word on that).When you’re walking all that way, there’s a lot of time for conversation, getting to know people. You learn that one of them is just the right size to stuff in a shopping cart and wheel around a deserted parking lot, or that another hates the word “pee” (you will probably repeatedly forget that she hates it, and you will probably inadvertently say it over and over again causing her to cringe each time – but you know it anyway). You learn about kids and pets and families and work and life.
If you ever want to get to know someone, walk with them for awhile.
Though they have far more miles on their sneakers than I do (I just officially hit my 157th Avon mile – Barbara, on the other hand was on her 17th Avon Walk!), I do my best to keep up. By the time walk day rolls around, we’ve been deep in the process for awhile. We’ve worked hard to fundraise and rally the troops and inform people about the good things the Avon Foundation does with this money to help research cures as well as fund programs for those fighting breast cancer. That’s the hard part.
Walk days are as fun as you make them, and we believe in fun. We believe in creating joy if the crowd support is lacking (and, sorry Boston, it was lacking. San Francisco and Chicago do it SO WELL, that the vibe in Boston was decidedly subdued. Kind of a bummer).
By the time the opening ceremony had ended and the walk kicked off, I had already experienced a huge range of emotions: I’d cried more than once at stories of lives lost to breast cancer, I cheered for survivors, I laughed at cute team tshirts and outfits, I yawned with exhaustion (It was early, y’all). The two days is like that. Once you start walking, add pain, fatigue, excitement, challenge, fury at hills (OH THE HILLS!), laughter, camaraderie… add that all to the mix.
I can’t imagine experiencing that with anyone else but my team. We just work. On the morning of day two when we all hovered around a pool filled with pink rubber ducks at Reebok’s HQ shooting pictures for over ten minutes I realized again, these are my people.
And when blisters slowed me down and I wasn’t zipping at the same pace they were, they slowed for me and refused to leave me behind though I said they could. And eventually we all crossed the finish line together at the end of it all.
We finished the evening with a celebratory dinner, venturing outside at sunset to take pictures of the sky (my people…). We parted ways in the hallway with hugs and love, and the next day all headed back to our corners of the midwest.
I miss them tremendously already.
There’s something soul-lifting about spending time with people you admire, people who are strong and joyful, people who make your world better just by simply existing. Spending time with friends, even while hobbling along with blisters, is renewing and recharging.
That I get so much out of doing this walk would have surprised the Sarah who drove to Chicago to meet a group of strangers to walk 40 miles. This Sarah, however, knows better and is already planning miles 157.2 through 196.5 (Denver 2013, baby!).