Today’s post is going to be a long one. I am guessing that you, like me, have heard of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. A woman that trains (along with her family) at our karate school told me many months ago that she was training for this. I was really impressed and inspired and was always excited to hear all her training updates. I have always wondered how this event worked and I am guessing I am not the only one. Lisa was kind enough to take the time to give us an in depth look at her recent experience at the Chicago event. She has some great stories and photos, so sit back, relax and be inspired!
S: What made you decide to participate in this event?
L: My mom is an Avon Representative. She has sold Avon since before I was born. In January she came to visit and we started talking about the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I didn’t think it through and decided on a whim to take on the commitment and register for the event. I thought to myself, ‘Why Not do this? It’s an opportunity to change a life’ and at the same time it would be unlike anything I have ever done in my entire life. I wanted and needed to challenge myself! At first it was overwhelming to think of the $1,800 I was required to raise in order to participate. I was more nervous about the fundraising than I was about the training and 39 mile walk. I told myself that these challenges pale in comparison to those who have either ‘fought the fight’ or who are ‘fighting the fight’ each day. I’m fond of the motto “I am IN IT TO END IT”!
S: Did/Do you know someone that has been affected with cancer that motivated you to do this?
L: Yes, I have friends and family that have been impacted by different types of cancer, including breast cancer. Joining the Avon Walk was my way of honoring and showing support to the people I care about that have been diagnosed with cancer. I want to make a difference, help save lives, and do my part to ensure that future generations will not have to face this menace we know as cancer.
S: Did you know anyone who had done it before to at least give you some tips, or did you go into it completely on your own? I heard you got connected with a group along the way at some point so that you weren’t doing this “alone.” Tell us how that worked. Did it help you come event weekend?
L: I went into it completely on my own. Within a week, I was assigned an Avon Walk Coach; she was there to support and help me through my fundraising and training journey. She was helpful assisting me with questions and concerns that arose with fundraising.
In March, I decided that I didn’t want to do the walk “alone”. I inquired about being added to a team, my walk coach immediately added me to the Avon Walk Solo Stutters’ team (The Solo Stutters’ team was founded back in 2006 by 13-year survivor and long-time Avon Walker Judy Cherry, to ensure that no Avon Walker would have to go it alone; and today there is a Solo Stutters’ team at every Avon Walk. Over the years, there have been more than 2,100 Solo Stutters’ team members and they have collectively raised almost $4 million for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer). I was connected with the team captain for the 2014 Chicago Avon Walk and added to the Solo Stutters’ USA Facebook group. Joining the team provided me with an excellent source of support and access to veteran walkers with a wealth of knowledge for event weekend. I’m proud to say that the Chicago Solo Stutters’ raised almost $200,000 for the walk. The camaraderie gained from my team was uplifting.
S: What was your training like? How many days a week did you have to walk? What was the longest distance you had to walk in training?
L: The Avon Walk Breast Cancer website has both fundraising and training resources. They provide numerous tips and materials that offer techniques to really harness the power of fundraising online through social media and email. There are videos, sample fundraising letters, business card templates, iPhone & android apps, and other tools available to assist with fundraising.
Since February I trained for the walk. With the harsh winter, I started on the treadmill walking 3 miles, 3 days a week. I’m glad it didn’t take long to shake my apprehension of walking on it. The website provides a few different training programs based on the distance you will walk, your fitness level (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and schedule. They have 8, 12 and 16-week training programs. I chose to do the 16-week intermediate program, which instructs you to walk 4-5 days a week. The program is designed with your longer mileage walks to be completed on the weekends; during the week there were no walks longer than 6 miles. On week 1, the total mileage per week is 12 miles and by week 12 the total is 33 miles. The longest training walk I went on was 16 miles. My training walks (over 300 miles) were in all different weather types.
S: What did you enjoy most about the training?
L: I really enjoyed being able to explore the miles of trails in the different Forest Preserves in Dupage County. I visited 10 different Forest Preserves and 2 River Walks in the area. I’ve seen deer, turtles, snakes, crawfish, wild turkeys and many other types of birds and even found one tick on me. Each Forest Preserve is interesting, relaxing and a way to connect to nature.
S: What was the HARDEST part about training?
L: The hardest part about training was finding motivation to walk no matter what the weather was like and training with blisters, aches and pains. Early on in my training I had ‘blister issues’. One of the blisters I had was under my toenail. It ended up turning black and falling off. I changed the socks I used and didn’t have any blisters until later in my training, just a few weeks before walk weekend when I had my longer walks. Throughout my training, I had heel pain – self-diagnosed plantar fasciitis. Leading up to the walk it seemed to get worse. I also have knee tendonitis, which would occasionally slow me down on the long training walks. Fortunately, as I tapered down my training the pain subsided.
S: What were you most nervous about going into the weekend?
L: Going into the weekend, I was most nervous about the weather and getting blisters. I was worried about walking and camping in the rain. As soon as I was able, I started checking the 10-day weather forecast. I was also concerned that I would able to persevere through any pain I would experience during the walk.
S: Walk us through the first day. How do you get checked in? Does everyone start at the same time? Are their any festivities surrounding the start?
L: Event Eve is the kick-off to the Avon Walk and takes place on the Friday of Walk weekend. Participants are required to attend if they did not complete early check-in online. There you can complete your medical forms, receive your Avon walk wristband and tent assignment. You can also turn in any last minute donations that you have and take The Fundraising Commitment Pledge (FCP) if needed. The FCP option is available to those Avon Walkers who didn’t reach the $1,800 fundraising requirement, but still want to walk in the event, they are given an additional 60 days to complete their fundraising. I completed my check-in online, so I received my pink wristband and luggage tag in the mail. Though I did not need to attend Event Eve, I went to visit with other participants, register for the 2015 Avon Walk and check out the merchandise available at the Avon Walk Shop and Reebok Store. There were many participants selling buttons, jewelry and other Breast cancer related items to help them with their fundraising efforts. I visited the “Bib Table” to fill out a special Avon Walk Bib that I wore all weekend letting people know who I was walking for.
It was fun stopping by the “Let the Avon Walk Begin!” banner to capture the special moment.
On Day 1, I arrived at Soldier Field at 5:30 am ready to walk. I brought my gear for the weekend and dropped it off at the designated gear truck that would transport it to Wellness Village. Coffee, Tea and a light breakfast of bagels and cream cheese was provided to all walkers. I met up with the Solo Stutters’ team for some pictures prior to Opening Ceremony, which started at 6:30 am. There were a few speakers that told their stories and provided the motivation everyone needed to start the 39 mile journey. The Avon Foundation revealed that Chicago raised $4.7 million this year. It was energizing and inspiring! The route opened immediately following the Opening Ceremony at 7:00 am. All the walkers started at the same time.
Day 1 is 26.2 miles, a full marathon. My family joined me at Opening Ceremony. After the ceremony was over, I immediately hugged my husband and children and started walking on my own at a comfortable pace. The Solo Stutters’ team was given teal blue hats to wear for the walk so we could spot other teammates easily. I didn’t walk a mile before I found another teammate that was walking at my pace. Her name was Mary and she was walking in honor of her mother who lost her battle to cancer in January of 2013. She shared her story with me and it touched my heart. Mary and I were at the 2 mile mark when we had the pleasure of meeting and walking with fellow Solo Strutter, Abbi. Abbi impressed me, she was 16 years old and joined the Avon Walk just 8 weeks prior to the event. She did her fundraising by taking milk jugs to school, asking for donations by going door to door, visiting local stores, and having the mammogram clinic where her step-mom works post her Avon Walk jug. She shared that she studies sign language as her foreign language, and plays rugby, which was her way of training for the walk.
The three of us stuck together every step of the way until lunch, stopping at most of the stops together along the route. Rest Stops or Quick Stops were located approximately every two to three miles along the route. The Rest Stops had Portable toilets, tables full of various snacks, water and Gatorade; Rest Stops also had medical services available. We found these delicious ‘Graham Snackers’ ~peanut butter & jelly graham cracker sandwiches. They were a favorite among many of the other walkers. The Quick Stops had portable toilets and drinks available.
The lunch stop is also the half marathon finish line. Many walkers chose to only walk 13.1 miles on Day 1; there is no pressure to walk the full 26.1 miles. When we arrived at the lunch stop we were enthusiastically greeted and given a ‘pink’ sack lunch, which included turkey sandwiches, ‘Sunchips’, carrots & dip, an apple, and Oreos. A vegetarian meal was available for participants with a green vegetarian wristband. Mary left the lunch stop before Abbi and I, she had friends that she was going to meet. We made plans to meet her at mile 16. Abbi and I left the lunch stop together. After a couple miles, I could tell that my pace was slowing down. We met up with Mary again, but she didn’t stay with us long, she was meeting up with other friends waiting for her.
When Abbi and I made it to the Rest Stop at Mile 20, I had my blisters tended to by the Medical volunteers. They lanced & drained blisters on both my heels and covered them with moleskin. Abbi was nice enough to wait for me while I had my blisters treated. We left the Rest stop together, but I could tell immediately that I would not be able to keep pace with her. After a couple miles, I was walking alone. It was a tough moment for me. I was in a lot of pain and missed a turn. I didn’t realize I had gone off course until I went about a half mile without seeing any signs. I had to back track to get back on the route. The last couple miles on Day 1 were tough! I had to “dig deep” to complete the full course. It surely was a test of strength for me. I was thankful for the people on the route that were cheering for all the walkers. I used their energy as motivation to finish.
Words can’t describe how I felt when I made it to mile 26 and crossed the finish line at the Wellness Village – it was euphoric. It was the highlight of the weekend for me. There were cheerleaders waiting at the line congratulating everyone and giving high fives. Cadillac was handing out pink slippers. The hospitality of everyone was an incredible feeling!
S: Where did you sleep? Did you actually get ANY sleep? Could you take a shower?
L: Wellness Village, located at Horner Park was the destination at the end of Day 1. Wellness Village is where walkers and crew camp in two-person tents on Saturday night. There are many services available at Wellness Village. Hot showers are available as well as clean portable toilets and sinks. There were medical services available, which included physical therapy, podiatry and chiropractic care. Participants could also utilize stretching and yoga classes, as well as mini foot and back massages. After relishing in the moment of crossing the finish line, I made my way to pick up my gear and tent.
There were volunteers that assisted me with carrying my gear and tent to my assigned tent space. A volunteer also set up the tent for me. As the tent was getting set up, I met my tent mate. After changing my shoes and getting my gear in the tent, I headed to the Meal tent for dinner. We had two options for dinner, Pasta with meatballs and marinara sauce OR grilled chicken with rice pilaf, vegetables, salad and cupcakes. There was also a vegetarian meal available for participants with the green vegetarian wrist bands. I had a difficult time eating. The smell of Tiger balm was overwhelming for me in the Dining Area. There was an Avon Walk Program that started, but I didn’t stick around for it, I wasn’t feeling up to it and wanted to call my husband and mother to tell them both about my day.
I met up with Abbi and we checked out Wellness Village together. We took some fun pictures and stopped by to get some free gifts at the Tiger Balm and Avon Foundation tents. Both of us were exhausted and were ready to start winding down for the night, plus, I was ready for a shower. I went to my tent, set up my sleeping bag, and made my way to the Shower Trucks. I didn’t have to wait long for a shower. I brought my own, but Avon provided Shampoo, Body Wash, & Lotion for participants. It was my first time ever showering in a semi-truck. After showering, I headed back to my tent. I talked with some other walkers briefly before calling it a night. I had a restless sleep, it seemed as though I woke up every half hour.
S: Tell us about day 2. Even though it’s less miles I’m sure it’s still very hard on tired feet and legs. How did it go? What was it like crossing the finish line?
L: On day 2 I was up at 4:30 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I got all my belongings in order while trying not to wake my tent mate I went to breakfast as early as I could, at 5:30 a.m. I had scrambled eggs, sausage links, hash browns and mixed fruit. There were also biscuits, muffins and cereal available. I kept it light because I was going to be walking 13.1 miles. I was able to charge my cell phone while eating my meal. I enjoyed a couple cups of much needed coffee while conversing with fellow walkers and then headed back to my tent. As I arrived, my tent mate was leaving. After dressing for the day, I took our tent down. It was easy and only took me about 10 minutes. The morning seemed to fly by. I met the Solo Stutters for a team photo at 7:00 a.m. After the team photo, I decided that I should have my heels wrapped and “treated” prior to the route opening for the day. I had to put my name on a list that was over a page long! The bulk of the people were needing blister-related care. As I was waiting, I met Angela who was another Solo Strutter. Angela and I were waiting in the medical tent as the route opened at 7:30 a.m. We were among the last walkers to leave Wellness Village that morning.
Being at the ‘back of the pack’ gave me a different perspective of the Avon Walk. I observed someone who was only able to walk a couple miles before having to stop. The support she received from fellow walkers and volunteers was refreshing. When she was picked up by the ‘Sweeper Van’, the volunteer stressed to all the walkers nearby that it doesn’t matter how many miles you walk, but what matters is that every step that we took was changing someone’s life. Angela and I stuck together the whole day. I was doing fine until about mile 6, when the top of my foot started hurting. I was convinced that I had a stress fracture and would have to finish the walk in pain. I was in contact with my family by that point, they came to meet me for Closing Ceremony, and so I was looking forward to seeing them. My husband met up with Angela and me at about mile 9 and walked with us to the Rest Stop at Mile 10. My mom and children were there holding signs and cheering for me. I had my foot looked at and I found out that my circulation was being cut off from when I had it wrapped that morning. It was a relief to know why I was in such terrible pain! Seeing my family was just what I needed to get me through the last couple miles of my journey.
My family was waiting at the finish line for me. After taking some pictures, I received lunch (the same as Day 1) and picked up my special Victory T-Shirt. I had enough time to eat lunch before the Closing Ceremony started. Closing Ceremony was a celebratory and inspiring completion to Avon Walk weekend. It was rewarding to see where the fundraising dollars go as checks were presented on stage to local beneficiaries!
S: What was the one most memorable experience of the weekend to you?
L: I can’t pinpoint just one memorable experience from the weekend. I feel like there were so many little things that added up to be a weekend of a lifetime for me!
The many walkers that I saw along the way. Men with pink hair and wearing tutus. The ex- soldier wearing his uniform and carrying a rucksack. The fire fighter walking in his full gear. I will never forget walking behind the gentleman who didn’t walk but rolled the 39.3 miles…he had blisters on his hands instead of his feet.
Check out his story on YouTube here.
The Motorcycle Safety Crew was Amazing! Seeing their bikes decorated in pink, with bras, flags and even eye lashes on their headlights was unforgettable. It was fun to see Bikers dressed in pink boots and vests. The Sweep Team with their decorated vans and continuous encouragement was like no other source of energy. I looked forward to them driving by honking their horn and rooting us on.
Mostly, I will remember all the people coming together to make a real difference for people living with breast cancer.
S: I heard you are already signed up for next year! That is awesome! What, if anything, will you do differently to prepare for next year?
L: Next year I will take more precautionary steps to keep blisters at bay. I hope to have my husband walk with me, so hopefully I will sleep better at Wellness Village, perhaps we can pack an air mattress for our tent.
S: Now that you have trained yourself to complete 39 miles, how do you plan to keep up your new fitness level?
L: I plan to keep up my fitness level by running & biking this summer. I also plan to continue going on at least one “long walk” a month while the weather is nice.
S: I know from distance running myself, that there are always several moments that you want to stop. Tell us about a time that you felt like quitting. How did you work through it?
L: On Day 1, there was a time that I felt like quitting. At mile 20, I had blisters treated on both of my heels. I struggled the last 6 miles of the walk that day, and wasn’t able to stay at the pace of my teammates that I walked with most of the day. Between the Quick stop at mile 22 and the Rest stop at mile 24, I didn’t turn when I should have and went about a mile out of the way. It was a low point of my walk, I walked with tears streaming down my face until I reached the Rest Stop at mile 24. I sat down and started to cry. I was tempted to give up and get on a bus and not finish the last 2 miles, but my determination and strong-will persevered. The volunteers at this stop were very encouraging and helpful. I had my feet wrapped and rested for a short time to regain my composure. One of the volunteers sat with me and rubbed my back, when I was ready to continue she walked with me as far as she was able to. I don’t know what her name was, but I appreciated and needed that support to continue on to the Finish Line.