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Jessica Gwozdz Photography – Bellingham Washington Photographer » Blog

2010 Chicago Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

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Two days, 39.3 miles thru rain and blazing sun.  Saturday and Sunday June 5 & 6 were the Chicago 2-Day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I am not a very good writer and tend to tell stories better thru photographs. But when you are walking for two days, you need to travel light and therefore I did not travel with any real camera gear. What you see here is an assortment of iphone snaps and point-and-shoot pics. Some of them are not even in focus, as I was handing my point-and-shoot to random people along the way. The exceptions are the finish line and closing ceremony pictures, which were shot by my friend Cynthia Kristufek.

Trysh and I had to be at Solider Field at 6am on Saturday. My wonderful husband was willing to leave the house at 5:30am to drive us there and my awesome in-laws took my kids overnight on Friday so they wouldn’t have to wake up that early with us. The opening ceremony was really moving, with several people sharing their personal stories of why they were doing the Avon Walk. Trysh and I started the walk with tears in our eyes after all of the emotional stories shared. As far as celebrity sightings at opening ceremony, Michael and Maria Ventrella from The Biggest Loser walked this year’s Chicago Avon Walk. Suze Orman was supposedly walking with us as well, though we did not actually see her. I think the best thing we learned at opening ceremony is that Chicago walkers raised 7.7 million dollars this year. Woot!

The early part of Day 1 was somewhat of a morale killer. It rained on us for a couple of hours before lunch and into lunch. Everyone was pretty much soaked when we arrived at the lunch stop. The lunch stop was an open park, so the plan was to grab a sandwich (the food itself was under a small pop-up canopy) and then either sit or stand in the pouring rain to eat. Not fun. The park had a building (not open of course), but the building had a slight overhang where people were crowding for shelter to be able to eat their sandwiches without rain pelting them in the head. Trysh and I found a nice open area under the overhang to sit and eat, but then quickly found out why it was an open area. It was infested with ants! I don’t want to go into too much detail but let’s just say I am pretty sure I literally had ants in the pants and possibly even ate some ants as well. Eeew!

There were a few walkers who were sheer geniuses because they thought to bring an ipod with speaker. As you can imagine these were some popular people, and Trysh and I were lucky to cross paths several times over the 2-day route with one such person, the red-haired man in the picture gallery above. He said his name was Redd Walker. He told us that his given name was Dave but that Redd had been his nickname for over 30 years. So he’s a red-haired guy walking in the Avon Walk…. Redd Walker? Coincidence?? (P.S. Hi Redd if you googled your name and landed on my blog. LOL!) Redd had a funny shirt and some great tunes, and he was a fun walking companion for the time we spent with him. His shirt listed his “Top Ten Reasons For Walking.” Since the picture I took of his shirt is probably too tiny to read, I will share some of my favorites:

  • Where else can I say I met 4000 amazing women in one day?
  • I may not be a bra, but I support boobs.
  • Where else can a man talk about boobs all weekend, and have women cheer him on for doing it?
  • Breast Cancer Walk? Dang it! I thought I was in line for Nickelback tickets.

Speaking of funny shirts, there were so many good ones. I have included a few of my faves in the picture  gallery above.

The show of support along the route was simply amazing. Businesses along the route had pink ribbons in the windows and signs on the doors saying “Restrooms available for Avon Walkers.” Some businesses were handing out drinks and candy. Residents along the route were doing the same things. Everyone was cheering us on and giving us high-fives. Some homes had signs in the windows or on lawn chairs. One home even had a pink bra hanging on the mailbox.

There were rest stops along the way, approximately every 3 miles, mixed in with “quick stops.” At these stops walkers could use the bathroom, refill their water and Gatorade bottles, grab a quick snack, or get medical attention. Each rest stop had a theme. For example, there was “Neverland” where we were sprinkled with fairy dust and got to pose for a picture with Peter Pan. We got leis at the Hawaiian rest stop and got to answer Mash trivia on the porta-potty doors at the 4077 rest stop.

Avon had set up “cheering stations” in advance. Cheering stations were various specified business along the route where people could gather to safely cheer. Examples were Starbucks, Rainforest Cafe, McDonalds, etc. Trysh had two friends from her work cheering for us early along the route on Day 1. We knew our families would be at the cheering station at mile 24. Honestly, thinking about seeing our families is what kept us going since we were really losing steam after about mile 21. My parents were at mile 23, and my husband and kids were at mile 24. It was a nice surprise to also see my mother-in-law and our neighborhood friends there as well.

Some of the volunteer crew members must have been part of a local Harley Davidson group because they had their motorcycles and would move along the route to act as crossing guards at busier intersections. For example, we would see a crew member with a Harley at and intersection and then see him again 5 miles later. These folks were really in the spirit of the event, with their hair and beards dyed pink, plus pink ribbons decorating their motorcycles.

The last mile of Day 1 was honestly a killer. One of Trysh’s feet was really sore and her big toe joint was very red. I think it took us almost an hour to walk that final mile. The final mile on the route to the camp site at Warren Park (aka the “Wellness Village”) was mainly residential. People were out on their lawns cheering, holding signs that said things like “3 more blocks!” Were weren’t the only ones dragging along. There was a couple on the route near us that had to keep stopping because the woman was having such a hard time. She kept saying “I think I am going to puke.” But even they made it to Warren Park.

Rewind a second here: When we hit the half-marathon point of Day 1, there were buses taking people to Warren Park. There is an option with the Avon Walk to do a full marathon over the two days (so 13.1 miles each day) or to do a full marathon the first day (26.2) and half marathon (13.1) the second day. When we saw those buses at mile 13.1, we thought “Those wimps! We are not even tired.” But then when it was taking us an hour to walk the final mile, we were thinking those people who got on the buses at mile 13 were brilliant. LOL!

And now the topic everyone has been waiting for me to report on: Camping! It is with mixed emotions that I must confess that we did not camp. In our final weeks of training, I really started to feel the physical toll that this effort was taking on my body. I am not 21 anymore, and I started thinking that maybe I should do whatever I could to ensure my success at this endeavor. After some of our longer training walks in the heat, I started wondering to myself if I would be able to get up and do that again the next day if I had slept on the ground overnight. Then after talking to some friends who had camped at the Avon Walk in years past and being told “Bring earplugs!” and “Bring an air mattress and battery operated pump,” I really started rethinking the camping idea. Trysh and I ended up crashing at my parents’ house. They have two empty guest bedrooms, and my Dad was willing to pick us up Saturday night and bring us back early the next morning. We originally intended to eat dinner at Warren Park (and do the “big kumbaya” as Trysh calls it), but after the disaster that was the Avon-provided lunch and our inability to take another step forward once we reached the fence of Warren Park, we had my Dad pick us up at the curb. We ate a home-cooked pasta dinner with my parents, showered in a real bathroom, and slept in real beds. It was a good thing we didn’t camp because there ended up being a big thunderstorm overnight.

When we were on the Day 2 route, we were feeling a bit guilty about not camping and started asking everyone how camping was. People would get a sheepish look on their face before replying “I slept at a hotel” or “I went home.” It was actually hard to find people on the route who did camp. We found two pairs of walkers who camped and both said it was a very rough night. Apparently the tents used for the event are not waterproof, so a plastic rainguard must be placed over the tent. The wind and rain were so strong that several tents lost their rainguards and the people inside were soaked. One woman was telling us about how the walls of her tent were billowing in and out, and someone else’s tent nearby was sliding around in the mud. She said that several people took shelter in the food tent, which was of course larger than the 2-person sleeping tents. All of this reinforced that Trysh and I had made the right choice for that night.

Day 2 was much easier than Day 1. The whole route was in the city, so there was a lot to see. It was really invigorating to be walking along the lake and thru some of the busier areas of downtown. I stayed in touch with my husband via text so he would know approximately when I would be crossing the finish line at Soldier Field. As we approached Solider Field, we could see the massive crowd gathered and the big pink arch to indicate the finish line. I could feel tears building at the show of support. The crowd was filled with family and friends of walkers, breast cancer survivors, and their family and friends. And then out of the crowd I heard a little shout of “Mommy!” as my 4-year-old son came running at me from under the pink arch. At that moment I totally lost it and started crying. My 7-year-old daughter was just a few steps behind him, and I crossed the finish line with both of my kids. I was so glad that my friend Cyn was there to capture that moment for me.

We had a couple of hours to wait before the official closing ceremony, waiting for the announcement that the “caboose” (the final walker) was crossing the finish line. In that time, the rain started again. We took temporary shelter in the parking garage and Trysh decided not to wait around for the final ceremony. My kids were still in pretty good spirits, so I decided to wait it out. Once the caboose rolled in, all of the walkers gathered for the closing ceremony. It was really cool because they separated out all of the walkers who were breast cancer survivors. First all of the regular walkers filed in to the ceremony wearing our light pink victory t-shirts. There was small aisle in the center of the sea of light pink, and that is where the survivors walked in. They were wearing hot pink shirts and waving white pom poms. I was in the middle of the crowd, but I am sure it looked amazing from further away. It was then that the skies opening up and rain began pouring down again. I looked back up the hill behind me and saw my husband and two shivering kids huddled under a too-small fold-up umbrella and decided that it was simply time to go home. I am sure the rest of the closing ceremony was amazing.

Doing this walk has really changed how I view Chicagoland. So much more is walking distance than I would have ever realized. We were everywhere – Downtown, Old Town, Boystown, Lincoln Park, Rogers Park, Edgebrook, Skokie, Lincolnwood. You name it, I think we walked it! I want to send out a big hug of thanks to everyone who supported us — those who made donations, those who babysat for our kids while we trained, those who inspired us with their stories of survival, my friends who are professional athletic trainers and gave us tips and exercises, all the friends who sent emails and texts of encouragement during the walk, those who sent handwritten notes of encouragement, those who called to check up on us, friends and family who came to the cheering stations and the finish line. We love you all and could not have done this without you!

Click here to see the official press release about the event.

Megan - Jes, this (and you!) are so incredibly inspiring. Thanks for sharing this experience!! 🙂

Karin - I was tearing up just looking at the photographs, and again while reading your story. Amazing Jes. Thank you to you & Trysh for doing such an incredible thing.

Sarah Phillips - Just awesome Jes! I got teary eyed teary eyed more than once reading about the experience. So inspiring.

Misti - Jes, these photos brought me to tears. So inspiring!!! So very proud to say I know you.

monica - Jes!! These are all such wonderful photos with so much emotion!! Inspiring! I love the one in the tunnel and the one with the bra on the mailbox!! HAHA!!! Great Job!!

Lisa Harrison - You had me in tears a few times during your post. What an amazing thing you did Jes….I know it’s weird for me to say I’m proud of you but I am SO proud of you. More importantly, I know you are proud of yourself, as well you should be. You’re an amazing lady. Great documentation of the day.

Theresa - Congratulations, Jes!! What an emotional journey… You and Trysh are a blessing to many just by sharing your experience. I hope you design a beautiful collage to hang in your home as a reminder to all how incredible this journey really was. Thank you for including my family names. And thank you for your energy and dedication.

Tree - Girl, you’ve got me in tears. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Congratulations!

Julia - I love this post; I’ve read it three times now and can’t stop looking at the photos. Hard to even pick a favorite…the pink bra on the mailbox, your kids running to you, “I’m not going to get emotional”. A gorgeous and telling photo gallery and a wonderful recount of an amazing event. I’m proud to call you my friend Jessica Gwozdz!

Mark - Jessie, what an amazing “feet”. Your account of the events combined with the pictures brought tears to my eyes. What an emotional journey! Here’s to hoping for a cure and that no one ever has to walk again.

Judy Baxter - Great blog post. You did great with the pics and your commentary. Both made me feel as if I were there with you. Thanks for sharing.

Cynthia - You did a wonderful job relating your story with words! I felt like I was along for the walk. You guys did an amazing thing! You guys helped raise part of that $7.7 million dollars. I was blessed to share the finish with you!

Jaimie Hurst - THANK YOU!!! Thank you for walking, raising money and working for a cure for this horrible disease. Thank you for wearing my name and walking in my honor….and for most of all caring and being my friend.

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