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Preparing to Walk in Their Shoes: Long Road to 3-Day 60-Mile Walk

Rosenthal, Eric T.

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000295281.51900.4f
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Exactly one year ago, OT covered the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (10/25/05 issue) from a relatively sedentary position.

Most of the interviewing was done via phone with a few hours spent by this reporter on-site during the Philadelphia-area event.

The article's conclusion was that although the 3-Day entailed a steep financial commitment on behalf of the walkers, it didn't seem to be that much of a concern for many of those dedicated to raising money for breast cancer research and community outreach programs via a 3-day 60-mile trek taking place in 12 different cities across the United States from summer though fall.

And the bottom line was that the 24,000 walkers raised $47 million for the two beneficiaries—the Komen Foundation, and the National Philanthropic Trust (NPT), which organizes and manages the event.

This year OT decided to put its feet where its ink was, and after being invited to participate more fully by the Komen Foundation's leadership, I registered for the Philadelphia-area walk on October 6–8, the seventh of the 12 walks spanning August through November.

Unfortunately, Komen's passive-recipient-rather-than-active-organizer status caused a rather long delay working with the more hands-on organizers—Event 360, Inc., the production company executing the event, and its public relations firm.

This meant my official registration didn't occur until about five weeks prior to the event, which was significant considering that the organizers recommend a 24-week training program for those planning to walk, and I missed out on many of the pre-walk events and activities, such as the face-to-face orientations, expos, and “FOCUS” meetings designed to interest, inform, involve, and inspire those considering joining the fight against breast cancer.

Repeated requests for information such as a hard-copy of the online handbook also bounced between handlers for several weeks before I finally received it the week prior to the walk.

This article looks at what takes place leading up to the actual 3-Day walk, an arduous, high-profile, Friday-through-Sunday event that's really just the tip of the iceberg for many of the 38,000 participants registered as of late-September for the 2006 series.

For full disclosure, I was not burdened with the $2200 minimum fund-raising goal and the $90 registration faced by non-news media registered walkers.

Three Consecutive Sunday Multi-Mile Training Walks

I was able to participate in three consecutive Sunday training walks—of 14.25 miles, 18 miles, and 15 miles each, and during this time became acquainted with more than a dozen walkers from the greater Philadelphia region.

The number of training walkers increased each week as the 3-Day approached—from about 10 to 13 to 25 walkers, respectively, during my last walk, about three weeks before the real thing.

Figure. E
Figure. E:
ric T. Rosenthal is OT's Special Correspondent.

That weekend also featured the so-called back-to-back training schedule, with a number of the Sunday walkers having spent Saturday trekking an additional 18 miles. Most of them said they felt surprisingly good by the end of the weekend's 33rd mile, and had increased their confidence proportionately

During that time I was the sole male walker until the last practice when a supportive husband joined his wife and the others.

I met only one breast cancer survivor during these excursions, and only two women who had walked the previous year as well.

In 2005, the National Philanthropic Trust's spokesperson, Nancy Mercurio, said that about 5% of participants were survivors and 2% to 3% were men.

Financial Commitment

A number of walkers commented that after raising more than $2200 they were reluctant to go back to the same well year after year, and didn't know if they would participate again.

Others said they had been added to their donors' own charitable-cause lists and found themselves being asked for reciprocal donations. They admitted it was getting to be a very expensive proposition, especially with all the recommended equipment and supplies. Even I found myself needing to beg, borrow or buy certain walking or camping implements for the two overnighters.

One walker, a professional fundraiser who teamed up with her 21-year-old daughter, said she had raised the requisite amount for both of them in a very short time and intended to continue raising more. She added she found it offensive to be asked during one of the online registration sessions if she'd made her personal donation yet, since she intended to keep fundraising, and had already spent more than $90 for socks, and several hundred dollars for shoes and other sundry items recommended for walkers.

Many participants said the six months of training and fundraising were difficult to juggle, but seemed to feel the benefits outweighed the time and financial commitments.

Denise Scala, Administrator at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

Denise Scala, an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, joined the 3-Day because of encouragement from a friend of hers from work, Heather Kelley, who had walked the year before and was serving as the volunteer training walk leader on the walks I'd joined.

Ms. Scala signed up because her mother had two bouts of breast cancer over a 10-year period.

“I find the experience of training and then walking 60 miles especially ironic, because my mother was unable to walk at all for the last 10 years of her life,” she said. “The 3-Day will also be the first time in 25 years of marriage that I'll be spending a long weekend away from my usual family obligations.”

Just weeks from the event she was not only on deadline to meet her October 1 grant-applications for Penn, but was still a few hundred dollars away from her $2200 minimum, and was arranging a bake sale and 3-Day logo-item fundraiser.

She said she wasn't too concerned if she had to pay the balance personally, a requirement that walkers faced if they fell short of the goal, and still wanted to walk. Walkers who had formed teams were also still on their own—NPT guidelines prohibited any sharing or transferring of funds among participants.

Ms. Scala's connection to breast cancer was much closer to home than many of the other women I met.

It was surprising how many had tangential relationships to the disease, and seemed more involved because it was an “empowering experience,” “a great exercise program,” or “an opportunity to do some good.”

Margaret Fine, Attorney with Philadelphia Child Welfare Unit

Margaret Fine, a Deputy City Solicitor for the Child Welfare Unit of the City of Philadelphia Law Department, said that the Breast Cancer 3-Day was one of the few chances she actually got to meet women living with breast cancer and breast cancer survivors.

She learned that a colleague was registered to walk the 60 miles for the 3-Day, and decided to sign up. Fundraising was not a problem, she said, because many family, friends, mentors, and colleagues she had known for more than 40 years supported her effort.

She also said she viewed training as a way to get in shape, and was very touched by her interactions reconnecting to people from her past.

“Helping breast cancer was an important part of it, but I wished the organizers had focused more on recruiting more women from the inner-city rather than the heavy emphasis on the suburbs,” she said.

“Breast cancer affects a diversity of women and men, and it seems imperative for the Breast Cancer 3-Day to create awareness and outreach to everyone in Philadelphia.”

Although my observations are anecdotal at best, it did seem that a large number of the walkers I met were young or middle-aged, middle-class professional women interested in walking “down the road toward a cure for breast cancer,” or getting involved in what they considered a life-changing event.

Many said they had been initially intimidated by the fundraising, and had never asked for money before. But 3-Day staff and coaches were available to provide tips for face-to-face asks, writing fundraising letters and e-mails, creating WebPages, making calls, contacting local media, and holding community events and fundraisers, with raising money via the Internet a preferred and effective tool.

Despite coming aboard too late to attend a live FOCUS meeting, I did listen to one via teleconference, a 90-minute call that focused mostly on fundraising, with training pointers almost an afterthought.

Many of those I trained with said that raising money seemed easier than they had thought, with many individuals and small businesses contributing several hundred dollars. Participants attributed the generosity to the breast cancer cause, and to the fact that they were willing to walk 60 miles over three days.

Correct Terminology

It also seemed as if the Komen reference was used almost incidentally by many fundraising walkers.

After reading the handbook, I realized that last year's OT headline referring to the “Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day” was technically incorrect.

The 3-Day's fundraising protocol stipulates: “Be sure to note your fundraising activity is for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, which benefits the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Please do not refer to the event as the ‘Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day,’ or ‘Susan G. Komen Foundation Breast Cancer 3-Day’ or the like. The Foundation has local Affiliates who organize Komen Race for the Cure® events, and it is important to avoid confusion between those events and the Breast Cancer 3-Day. You should not use the Komen Foundation logo on any promotional materials you make.”

I'll remember that when I file the next story following completion of my 60 miles, which I hope will not be too seriously hampered by insufficient training.

3-Day Schedule

The full schedule for the 12 sites for this year's 3-Day 60-Mile Walk were as follows:

Boston: Aug. 4–6

Michigan: Aug. 11–13

Twin Cities: Aug. 18–20

Seattle: Aug. 25–27

Chicago: Sept. 8–10

Kansas City: Sept. 15–17

Philadelphia: Oct. 6–8

Tampa Bay: Oct. 13–15

Atlanta: Oct. 20–22

Dallas/Ft. Worth: Oct. 27–29

Arizona: Nov. 3–5

San Diego: Nov. 10–12

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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