The annual Walk for Breast Cancer raises funds for breast cancer in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Each year, in several Canadian cities including Calgary, a 60 KM (37½ mile) walk, over 2 days is hosted to support the treatment and eventual cure for breast cancer. Eligibility is established by signing up and raising a minimum dollar amount in pledges.
Registration is held at the Calgary Stampede Grounds Roundup Centre. The input process is exhilarating and very busy with patience required to run the gauntlet of sequential line-ups.
An important motivational and safety presentation is held, liability waivers are signed, name tag lanyards are distributed and final registration is completed. The process is efficient but very busy. Literally, thousands of people are involved in this popular annual fundraiser.
My participation is compromised by a left ankle injured in a recent hiking incident. If necessary, the walk can be completed with an air cast and crutches. The hair has been shaved to support participants and others undergoing chemotherapy. The list of donors, and photos of the people for whom I am walking, are secured in my backpack.
Inside the Roundup Centre, opening ceremonies begin at 7 AM with several touching moments including a mass aerobic workout conducted by local fitness centers and an address from Linda Mickelson, CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, herself a cancer survivor. At this time there is no way of knowing we will be meeting again later in the day.
Distance on the first day is 35 kilometers (21⅞ miles). At 7:20 AM, with pomp and circumstance, doors open and 2,140 walkers file out of the Roundup Centre onto the streets of Calgary. There is a party mood.
Participants are encouraged by thousands of cheering onlookers. Support vehicles including police vehicles, fire department vehicles and ambulances are standing ready. The 2 KM-long line stretches out to 5 kilometers in the first 2 hours. Sweep vehicles and a local motorcycle clubs have adorned their rides with boob-related decoration. The mini-vans functioning as sweep vehicles are our constant companions as they drive back and forth, cheering participants and assisting as required. The environment and the supporting entourage is incredibly uplifting.
Motorcyclists assist police and EMS in traffic control and problem resolution. Over 21,000 volunteers are involved in this effort. The organization is impressive. Every 3 KM (1⅞ miles) there are pit stops where Porta-Potties, water, electrolyte drinks and snacks are available. Walking participants are greeted by cheering volunteers and the public at large as walkers enter and leave each rest stop.
Near noon, walking participants are escorted into the lunch stop near Foothills Hospital by a small but exuberant bagpipe band and columns of the ever-cheering volunteers. The ample lunch provided is excellent and participants are treated like royalty. First aid is available as required. The perpetual attention of EMS resources riding the route on bicycles, quads and ambulances provide treatment for knee, muscle problems and blisters.
Many neighborhoods have pink ribbons tied around trees along the route. Children staff free lemonade stands. There are tables of homemade cookies. It is impossible to starve to death. Some families have decorated their homes elaborately with ribbon and balloons. Stereos are playing motivational music. Singing is involved.
One poignant image, indelibly engraved forever in my memory, is an elderly woman standing quietly on the front lawn of her modest home in a mature and well-treed area of the city. She holds a large sign with the single word 'HERO' in large letters. Perhaps an overstatement, but it put a lump in my throat and is good for at least a couple more kilometers.
The first 35 KM (21⅞ miles) ends at 4 PM at Currie Barracks. My daughter meets me at every cheering station along the way carrying ice and the air cast. It is good to see her and get hugs.
Many walkers stay overnight in the large, well-organized temporary tent city. There, an excellent supper is served. This participant chooses to take the short trip home, with ice on the ankle, for a good meal and sound sleep in a familiar and comfortable bed.
At 7 AM participants assemble again at Currie Barracks. A marching pipe band and police on horseback send walkers off. Ever-present sweep vehicles, motorcycles and cheering squads, combined with phenomenal neighborhood support, greet the walking tour of south-east Calgary.
There are only 25 KM (15⅝ miles) to walk on this second day. A friend has the air cast and crutches on standby if required. EMS crews are busier today. The physical endeavor is taking its toll.
Lunch is served at 10 AM. Hiking poles make a big difference. As walkers approach the end of the walk, the sun is shining. The final stretch into the Calgary Stampede grounds is a very emotional experience.
Near the Saddledome a left turn brings the end in sight. Feet are tired and sore and gait is becoming irregular. Ahead is the receiving line with thousands of people cheering on both sides.
Before entering this acoustic extravaganza, there is a pause to collapse the hiking poles before completing the remaining and final short walk to the finish line in a strut with arms swinging high, steps long, sure and swift, with ball cap off and greeting these wonderful people cheering everyone to the finish at the top of their lungs. The receiving line is like a large funnel about half a kilometer long which narrows along its length.
At the end, a sharp right turn delivers me onto the red carpet leading into the Roundup Centre. There are hundreds of high fives on both sides. At the end of this line stands Linda Mickelson. She extends her hand to shake mine. Both of us may have said 'to hell with it' at the same time and we share a prolonged and heartfelt hug. It is a good ending.
The ankle held up. Standing on the receiving line to welcome other walkers, it is an incredibly powerful experience as hundreds of walkers pass. Some are clearly struggling, in very bad shape, but the display of raw courage and determination is awesome and beyond inspiring. There is unquestionably profound respect for those who refuse to allow adversity to prevail.
Gifts and fresh clothing are distributed to every walker. It is not a small production. The effort is meticulously well-planned and vigorously financed by charitable individuals, companies and corporations.
Near 4 PM, all supporting families and volunteers congregate inside the Round-up Centre for our march into the Stampede Corral for Closing Ceremonies. When the walkers enter the packed stadium to thunderous cheering and applause, any remaining shred of masculine dignity is completely obliterated.
The stage is front and center. Walkers in blue shirts are escorted into lines on the outside of the floor area. Then, walkers in pink shirts who are cancer survivors, enter the two inside rows. The emotional impact is overwhelming. Finally, the crew volunteers enter the middle rows and friendly faces, that have become familiar over the past two days, are given their truly earned applause.
At 4:30 PM, the massive awareness and fundraiser is complete.
The annual Walk for Breast Cancer is an awesome experience. There is no good way to express enough gratitude to supporters, financial and otherwise, who made it possible to participate in this amazing event.
Special thanks to one young lady for taking my pledges over the top so this experience could be realized. You and this event will always be indelibly memorable. Thank you.