The Fayette Citizen-Weekend Page

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Walking for a worthwhile cause


If your circle of acquaintances includes, as mine does, those noble souls who love to walk for good works, you are probably getting besieged right now with sponsoring appeals.

It works something like this: Mary Jo needs to lose a few pounds and tone up the old gluteus maximus. She gets out there on the cart path several mornings a week with friends who walk together for company and encouragement.

The American Hamstring Association or Myalgics Anonymous or ____ (fill in the blank with the charity of your choice) decides to harness that foot power in a walk-a-thon for their cause, and you and I start receiving letters from people we talk to almost daily, but who lack the courage to proffer upturned palms in person.

I'm kidding, really, because I'd do the same if I were inclined to athleticism and had a cause to which my commitment exceeded my embarrassment about asking for money. Instead, frankly, I'm relieved simply to substitute a small check for strenuous activity.

(Let the record show, however: I budget a block of charitable funds, dollar amount classified, and the first so many appeals, also classified, get checks. The rest get apologies.)

Last year two of my dearest friends participated in such walks, one for the Arthritis Foundation, the other for the Avon 3-Day Walk for Breast Cancer Research, and I really was very proud of them.

The first was held in Dublin, Ireland, and I only wish you could see pictures of Caroline and her colleagues swathed in plastic ponchos against the Irish liquid sunshine. They look absolutely exultant. What made me particularly proud of her was that she paid her own way as her contribution. Every cent that she raised truly went to arthritis research, and not to finance an exotic walking venue.

Viki shared details of last September's Avon event in a letter thanking her supporters. Her account was so vivid, so hilarious, I asked to share it with you, and she graciously agreed. Participants were mostly women, mostly survivors of breast cancer like Viki, or friends or relatives of breast cancer patients, as Viki also is. They trudged 60 miles, from Lake Lanier to Piedmont Park, despite a monsoon, the only serious rain of a scorching summer.

She wrote triumphantly:

"Well, I did it. Walked every inch of every mile.

"It rained off-but-mostly-on all last Friday. We arrived soaked at the Duluth campsite in the late afternoon to discover the site was cut in half by the rain. Geese were a-swimmin' where we were suppose to be a-tentin'. We stood in the rain looking like dumb cattle in ponchos before walking up a tall-grass covered knoll. Single file with heads bent, we resembled a dreary Ingemar Bergman movie.

"At the top was the open-sided food tent and the medical tent. They wrapped us in tinfoil emergency blankets so that now we looked like rows of baked potatoes, though we were actually chilled. Several wound up in the medical tent with IVs, and more than a few battled hypothermia.

"A Peachtree City friend and I sat in the tent for three hours waiting for buses to take us to Redan High School. Plan A had been Duluth High School, a mere two miles away, but for reasons unknown, the Duluth principal changed his mind. In the meantime, the buses, porta-potties, food, luggage trucks and the rest of this mammoth support team was strung out across the top of the [I-285] perimeter, during rush hour, in the middle of the first significant rain in weeks. Need I go on?

"Redan High School's principal ­ may he go to heaven on a straight course ­ agreed to let all 3,000 of us come there, so the next trick was to find the buses and get them to the campground to pick us up. Once on the air-conditioned (who knows why?) buses, the trip back across the perimeter took another hour-plus.

"When we arrived at Redan, I honestly thought Atlanta was burning and it was time to send Prissy after Rhett. It was absolutely chaotic, with women calling families to come get them, other women calling cabs to take them to the nearest hotel with hot water, buses loading and unloading, gear trucks still wandering and people screaming for this and that.

"The school, probably built for 1,500 students, was crammed with roughly 2,500 tired, cold, wet, hungry people. The gym looked like an updated and feminine version of that great Battle of Atlanta scene in 'Gone With the Wind.' About half a dozen bedraggled Peachtree City walkers spread their stuff in the middle of the gym, while others were behind the stage, in classrooms, hallways, the drama room, the cafeteria and so forth.

"We immediately invaded all the locker rooms to shower and later, on the news, some idiot parent swore his kid ­ part of the football team returning from an away game ­ had gone to the boys' locker room to retrieve his stuff and found, Ohmigawd! naked women.

"Naturally, he went right out and told his dad, who said he planned to sue because the kid was traumatized. (Having raised a couple of teen-age boys, I assure you that running to tell me their locker room was filled with naked women would be about the last thing they'd do.)

"Anyway, it finally all got more or less sorted out. I ate supper about 11 p.m., slept on the gym floor and was up and ready to face Day Two. Yes, do remember: All this horror was after walking 21 miles the first day."

Viki enjoyed last year's 3-Day enough to pass up this year's. I didn't ask, but I assure you she wrote a check. And she plans to accompany Caroline for the October Joints in Motion marathon ­ in sunny Greece.

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