Wow, was I impressed with the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk I witnessed in Chicago this weekend. There were more than 2,300 walkers who raised a total of $6.1 million. And that's just the first walk out of 14 this season.
I flew into Chicago with two other members of the PR team on Thursday. We made our way to the staging site in time to see the rehearsal for opening ceremonies and pick up the car we'd be using for the weekend.
The opening presentation was extremely moving. Even though it was only a practice, all of us got a bit teary-eyed.
As this was my first Breast Cancer 3-Day event and they're generally handled by two-person teams, I decided to give myself the role of unofficial photographer. You can see the majority of the photos here. I also drove as needed so that the team leads could make media calls and navigate from one stop to the next.
On Friday morning, the day the walk began, I set my cell phone alarm for 4:00 a.m. and met the team at 4:45 a.m. to go to the opening ceremonies location at a suburban mall. While my colleagues worked to coordinate interviews, etc., I walked around and captured photos of the walkers and their supporters arriving and settling in.
The opening ceremonies were just as moving the second time around, and we stayed and watched as all the walkers filed out and began their 60-mile journey.
The walkers pass through numerous pit stops, "grab-n-go" beverage stops and cheering stations before and after their lunch stop. They end up at a campsite that includes a huge dining tent, and a "main street" of sponsored amenities, a gear shop (where I bought myself a much-needed hat) and an event information center. There are also truck-mounted showers, a stretching area, a medical tent, and a flagpole in the center of camp that remains bare until the last walker arrives each day.
We spent each day following the walkers to various stops, meeting up with members of the press, and ending up at camp for the after-dinner information session and show.
The coordination involved in routing and caring for the walkers is nothing short of amazing. That doesn't even count all the training and fundraising support they get before they even arrive.
It didn't take long before I started feeling the urge to sign up for the walk next year. Even when I saw the walkers at their lowest ebb on Saturday, I still envisioned myself out walking with the group in some interesting city (since the event won't be held in Kansas City next year). The fact that many of the tired, stiff-legged walkers turned into dancing machines at the Saturday evening dance party was heartening as well.
As inspiring as the opening ceremonies were, the closing ceremonies were even more so. When the walkers who are breast cancer survivors filed in, the other walkers each held up one shoe in tribute. I realize that sounds a little odd when you're just reading about it, but the symbolism was very powerful in person.
I've been very fortunate that no one in my family has ever suffered from breast cancer (although other cancers have taken their toll). Still, I have met enough breast cancer survivors over the years to have a strong interest in making sure they all remain healthy.
If anyone is interested in forming a team and picking a city for 2009, let me know. We'd have plenty of time to train and fundraise ($2,300 each) between now and the time of the walk. Even as an observer, I could tell that the walk was the kind of experience people remember for a lifetime. Who's up for a challenge?