“What would it take to motivate a woman of my age to walk from Santa Barbara to Malibu — 55 miles? Nothing less than true love!”
Thus began my fund-raising letter for the Avon 3-Day Walk from Santa Barbara to Malibu, which culminated at Zuma Beach Sunday. For, in addition to meeting this long-distance challenge, each walker was required to raise at least $1,700 to support programs that provide for the early detection of breast cancer.
The love I referred to in my letter is for two special people lost to breast cancer in the last few years. One, my sister, Loretta Darling (Lynn Portugal), at age 59, and the other, my friend and assistant, Adele Richardson, just 35. As I shared with them the fearsome days of diagnosis, treatment and death, I was overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. Surely, I thought, I could do something, if not for them, then for someone else, in their memory. And, that is why, when I heard Avon was underwriting the cost of a walk that would raise millions of dollars for the early detection of breast cancer, I signed right up, joining 2,900 other men and women on Avon’s second annual Los Angeles 3-Day event.
What separates the women from the girls …
Once committed, I had to confront the fact that on a fitness scale of 1-10, I was a 1. A car-door to front-door walker, my audacity in thinking I could go the distance astounds me. When my Avon walker-buddy, Margo Neal, took me to Pepperdine’s Stotsenberg Track to discover four times around it did not add up to four miles, I was devastated. When walking between lifeguard stations added up to less than one mile, I was depressed. When Temescal Canyon to the Santa Monica Pier was not the 10-mile trek I imagined, I was disheartened. But soon, with encouragement from Arnold, Margo and “real” walkers like my mom, Jody Stump, Diane Pershing and Marlene Marks, I persisted. Before long, I was doing the “Old Road” (almost 5 miles round trip) just for warm ups and discovering mountain trails I’d never explored though I’ve lived in Malibu for more than 20 years.
Dressed for success
I think shopping was the most fun. New shoes. Cute, tight-fitting walking pants. Thorlo socks, colorful little T-shirts that breathed. I discovered stores that catered to walkers and where salespeople were highly informed consultants whose advice was to be sought and appreciated and where standards of beauty were based on performance, not prettiness. If one’s body type differed from that of a supermodel, all the better — a reality to be accommodated, not covered up. And they took me seriously. “Walking 55 miles? No sweat! We can help you get there.” This acceptance and confidence slowly began to change my very self-image: Sure, I might be carrying a few extra matronly pounds, but I was strong. I had a healthy, well-functioning body that was growing more muscular by the day. My legs and feet could take me places I’d never been before. Then, with my costume and confidence appropriate to the task, looking the very soul of a walker, I became a walker.
The days grew shorter, and the walks got longer. Ten, 12, 13 miles and more. Two back-to-backs and then three. The “real walk” would last three days and cover 55 miles: 19 the first day, 14 the second and 22 the third. Once basic technique was mastered, hardening of the feet and developing stamina were the goals. And this takes time. Massive amounts of time. Time usually designated as Arnold’s time, or my mother’s or sons’ time, or community time. Five to eight hours Saturday and Sunday. Two hours after work at least three times a week. In self-defense, Arnold and my nonparticipating friends and family began to walk with me. But making time for me and my goals was a new experience for me. Asking others to respect my time and having it respected was not only empowering, it was inspiring. What better encouragement can one receive than to know the people you love support your aspirations to the degree they sacrifice their own needs to help you achieve yours?
Getting to “Day Zero” (departure day) took a whole lot more than physical prowess and time. I needed to find camping gear, a ride to Santa Barbara, hotel arrangements for the night before. I needed to make adjustments to my work schedule to accommodate deadlines, get forms filled out, etc. None of this could have been achieved without lots of planning and lots of help. Since Arnold and I are not camping types (we much prefer room service) and have not owned (or even thought about) a sleeping bag since my youngest son moved out seven years ago, we had to find out who did, borrow it, and get it and everything else home and packed. Finally, item by item, the checklist was completed, the duffel bag zipper was zipped and it was time to go! I was filled with a sense of adventure.
So calm, controlled and invincible the day before, I arrived at “Check In” totally crazed. Despite the company of dear friends who would also be walking, my confidence waned, my stomach churned, my head ached, I was nauseated. The next three days loomed ahead as a black hole of fear and pain. To say I was filled with self-doubt was an understatement. Despite having faced a multitude of challenges in my lifetime — including starting several businesses and rebuilding a home destroyed in the ’93 fire — I felt totally ill prepared. The defeatist little voice in my head kept at me: “Why are you doing this? You are not a jock! You’re old. The highest rating you ever got in tennis was a C-. You were always the last girl chosen for the team. You look silly in these clothes. Go home.”
Fortunately, the other voice in my head prevailed and reminded me of the best advice I had received during my training: “Don’t think too much, and keep taking one step at a time until you cross the finish line.” Today, the first steps were to complete the registration process by filling out forms, viewing a safety video, learning how to put up a tent, and eat dinner and sleep. These I could do, so I did them. One step at a time.
Organization — Wow!
The Avon 3-Day professional staff and volunteers did their best to bolster our confidence by being so highly organized we literally floated through the process. Demonstrating a mastery of logistics worthy of the landing at Normandy, they provided 2,900 walkers anything and everything needed for our success: food, lots of water, shelter, hygiene, healthcare, entertainment and safety training. Everywhere, walkers were greeted with smiles, warmth and support. “You can do this, and we’re here to make sure you do” was the message. Well then, I thought, maybe I could, after all ….
The safety video taught us what we needed to know to survive (stretch, drink water, stretch, drink water, stay alert to stay alive, communicate, drink water and stretch again). It also provided for an attitude adjustment. Stressing the challenges of living together during a time of adversity (fatigue, pain, etc.), there was to be no complaining and no whining. We were to demonstrate kindness to one another at every opportunity. This commitment to a positive attitude, inclusiveness, generosity and mutual caring, they assured us, would make the difference between misery and glory. And it did.
Walking, walking and walking some more
From hotels and motels throughout Santa Barbara, we came together in the dark Friday morning hours for a brief, moving, departure ceremony. Breast cancer survivors, joining hands to form a circle, celebrated their health and reminded us of the emptiness of the circle’s center where the spirits of those less fortunate resided. Because of our efforts, many more would survive through early detection and research. In fact, we were informed, our group had already netted $5 million! Thus inspired by achieving our collective goal, we began working toward our personal goal.
The days were long and warm, the pavement hot and hard. While we traversed some of the most scenic coastline in the world, few tarried to enjoy the view, as we maintained a steady pace toward camp site one, camp site two and, finally, the finish line at Zuma Beach. Two by two (sometimes three), we walked, talked, joked, sang or simply gritted our teeth. Groups and partners changed often to accommodate varied paces and conditions. New friendships were made. I made a new friend named Jacki. She had come from Canada to represent the Canadian Cancer Society. A survivor, she had earned the highest honors awarded by the Canadian government for her personal efforts to increase breast cancer detection awareness. She is also a professional singer, and her courage, delightful voice and cheerful demeanor carried us many a mile. From the moment I filled out my check and registered to the moment I crossed the finish line, I was learning something new.
Will I do it again? Probably not. Among the many lessons I learned was: In facing new challenges, one gains new perspectives. I am looking for next year’s challenge. Any suggestions?
While this is a long, long column, it is not nearly long enough to include all of the experiences, observations and acknowledgments I would have liked to include. I invite you to consider participating in next year’s Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day. Contact the organization via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 310.450.5015.