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My AVON Walk experience -- Intense, Emotional, Awesome!

Seven months ago, my friend Michelle asked me to join her Team and help raise funds for the fight against Breast Cancer -- funds that will support research efforts as well as help women (and men) afford the treatment they need to win their battle against this disease.

It is estimated that in 2012 alone, over 9,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Illinois alone (and of that number, over 1600 will die from it). Nationally, the numbers are even more sobering: 229,000 new cases this year with over 39,000 deaths caused by this disease. And with several deaths in my wife's family due to breast cancer, there was only one possible response: Yes!

I admit that I was intimidated by two aspects of this commitment. First, could I raise the $1,800 minimum fundraising requirement. Second, could I walk 39.3 miles in two consecutive days. I hadn't even begun to train to run a full (26.2 mile) marathon yet, much less do a Full followed by a Half. And I am not all that good with fundraising either. But I put my trust in God and Michelle's positive enthusiasm that it would all work out.

In March, I started my training program for the Walk. I walked twice a week averaging 16-20 miles a week (I was also running 15-25 miles/week). By May, most of my training was walking, with three walks weekly averaging 20-30 miles (with back-to-back walks on the weekends). It was serious effort, but I was determined to walk the entire 39.3 miles (over two days) in honor of the people for whom I was walking.

I was very blessed with friends and family who supported me both financially and emotionally during 2012. I was fortunate to raise $2470 towards this important cause. allowing me to participate in the Walk. I am so very thankful for the love and support they have shown me, and their generosity will never be forgotten. Our team raised over $84,000 for the Walk, and the event raised a total of $6.3M for Chicago by all the walkers! Praise God for such an amazing bounty!

Speaking of the Team, I was very fortunate to be part of the Pink Ribbon Angels Team for the Walk. My teammates were warm and welcoming, and a lot of fun! Many of them have done the AVON Walk for 4+ years. I learned a lot from our team meetings, all the helpful tips and hints, and I have made a bunch of new friends. We sponsored many team fundraisers together, organized team training walks, and held team meetings as we prepared for the Walk. Sharing this experience with them made it even that much more special to me. I cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and friendship. Rock on, Angels!

Last Friday, June 1st, was Event Eve -- where 2800+ walkers from all over the country gathered for fellowship, to sign in, purchase cool gear from the AVON Store, and get pumped up for the weekend. Event Eve was at a Hyatt Regency Hotel, so my wife and I decided to grab a room for the entire weekend and make it extra special for us by celebrating our 16th anniversary there (a week early). The place was buzzing with excitement as thousands of walkers and their families converged on the Hyatt. The energy in the place was amazing!

On Saturday morning at 3AM, I got dressed in my running gear and hopped onto a bus that would take walkers to Soldier Field where the race would start. It was a beautiful morning with temps in the mid 50s, clear skies, and a slight breeze. The team gathered, talked, laughed, took pictures, and enjoyed the breakfast foods available pre-race. (I keep saying 'race' but it was not a race -- people walked at whatever pace was comfortable as long as it was walking and not running. The Walk is an experience best shared with others along the way -- to hear stories, share laughs, and support one another.)

When we started at 7AM, I was with a group of teammates who walked at a faster pace. We had a ball! We talked and shared stories, and we talked with other walkers along the way down Lake Shore Drive. I will publish a Race Report tomorrow with more details. Suffice to say, it was a very powerful experience as I spoke and interacted with so many others during the Full Marathon Walk, sharing their stories of triumph, grief, and hope. Crossing that Finish Line in 60th place (out of 2800+ walkers) after 7 hours, 39 minutes left me excited and drained, with sore feet and shoulders, but also with a strong sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and joy.

On Sunday morning, I found myself standing out at front with several teammates and other amazing people as we waited for the Half Marathon Walk to begin. When the Walk started at 7:30AM, I found myself walking with a remarkable young lady named Brooke who had an amazing story to tell. She and I ended up walking the entire 13.1 miles together, finishing the Walk in 3 hours, 20 minutes and coming in 5th and 6th place! Brooke and I talked practically the entire time as we enjoyed the sights and a shared sense of mission.

Completing 39.3 miles of the AVON Walk was an overwhelming experience that I will never forget -- the people, the excitement, knowing that you are doing something that will make a difference in thousands of lives and hopefully lead to a cure. I cannot even put into words the emotions that went through me when I finished each walk. Just typing this post makes my heart beat faster as those feelings well up within me all over again. I am so thankful for having had this opportunity. I am certain this will not be my last.

My next posting will be my 'race report' covering my experiences of walking my 'first' Full Marathon on Saturday, followed by walking the Half Marathon on Sunday.

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