The Tampa Bay 3-Day was this past weekend. It was awesome. Every week I say that. Every week I’m right. Awesome, awesome, awesome. This group raised more than 5.4 million dollars. And not only that, they walked 60 miles in 5.4 million percent humidity this weekend.
They have their own special memories, this group. Friday night, we had to relocate them because of threats of severe weather. They simply could not be safe and camp outside. So we took them to a safe location to sleep. These are the plans we always have in place, just in case. Safety is our number one concern. We’re going to make sure the walkers and crew are safe. So if local authorities see that weather has turned threatening, well, we relocate to a safe site. Guess where the safe site was?
A parking garage.
Apparently Florida has some strange law that you can’t overnight in a school so the best option was a parking garage. It WAS the top floor of the parking garage – the penthouse! And it DID have a nice view of the bay … but it was a parking garage nonetheless. And do you know what those walkers who had walked 22.5 miles that day in the blazing heat said about that?
Only good things.
Can you fathom it? They didn’t complain. They didn’t grumble. Oh, I’m sure here and there they were cranky about it, who wouldn’t be? But overall, they just chuckled.
What memories! They said
It wasn’t that bad! They said
And of course, the mantra of the 3-day: It ain’t chemo!
The next morning we bussed them back to camp and they cheerfully changed in the port-a-potties and ate their hot breakfasts and took off to walk another 19 miles … smiling all the way.
How can you NOT love these people???
Being a part of the 3-Day is nearly indescribable. It’s great. It’s fabulous. But it isn’t easy. Opening ceremonies was especially tough for me this past weekend. The setting was beautiful at Sand Key Park and if it weren’t for the sand burrs that created a ring of terror and pain around the hem of my work-out pants, I’d have no complaints. Actually I’m not even complaining about the sand burrs because they gave me some really good stories and was I or was I not told to not wear long pants?
Sand burrs aside, the ceremonies were lovely. But difficult. Each week I worry just a little that it will get mechanical for me. That I will come off as disingenuous. That I’ll look out on the crowd and they will be going, “Oh blah blah blah! Get on with it already!”
And then every week something happens. I’m the same, yes. The ceremonies are mostly the same, yes. But the participants change. And when they change, reality shows up. Reality comes right in, uninvited most of the time, and smacks me upside the head. Every week I meet someone, talk to someone, look in the eyes of someone who is on the edge of a cliff of grief that is so deep and so vast and they are teetering. And I can’t stop them, I can’t help them, I can’t pull them back because I know … and they know … the only cure for grief is grieving.
And so we go over the edge together.
Danny lived with and loved his wife, Claudia, for 9523 days. 5 weeks ago a reality called breast cancer interrupted and took her life. Claudia’s daughter participated in the ceremonies Friday morning. Danny watched from the sides. As I spoke I could hear Claudia’s daughter crying. As I tried to motivate I could see Danny sobbing. He told me later how much she wanted to be there. He told me how desperately he missed her. He told me how broken his heart is. And all I could do is all I can ever do. Listen. Embrace. Cry.
That’s one story.
There were 2249 others.
This week we go to Dallas/Ft. Worth. And just when I think it might get routine, reality will show up again. And it will all become too real.
They will walk this weekend, just as Tampa Bay walked this past weekend and Atlanta before them and Michigan, Twin Cities, Seattle, Cleveland, Chicago and Boston before them. If they have to, they will sleep in a garage or a warehouse. If it rains, they’ll get wet. If the sun shines, they’ll be pink. They’ll get blisters the size of my computer mouse and they’ll sprain ankles and sleep in tents and shower in trucks. They’ll clock off mile after mile. And they’ll do all of this for one reason …
So someday, you don’t have to.