It was only a 5K. Just 3.1 miles. Anyone who can’t walk 3.1 miles is a wimp, I told myself, but the first kernel of doubt planted itself soon after my husband dropped off my daughter and me at Meredith College. We had to go up a grassy hill to get to the area where we were meeting our team. It was maybe a quarter-mile, and I was slightly winded when I arrived at the gathering of about 20 Elite cheerleaders, parents and staff. It was about 8:30 a.m., already hot and humid. I’d brought a hand towel and a bottle of water. An hour later, the towel would be wet and the bottle dry.
THE BAD NEWS: Three H’s: Hot. Humid. Hills.
THE GOOD NEWS: An estimated 30,000 people turned out in Raleigh to help raise about $1.2 million for breast cancer research and treatment. There were colorful tents, balloons, music and pink, pink, pink. You’d think with all those people in one place there’d be chaos, but it was the most organized, feel-good event I’d ever attended.
There were two earlier races before the start of the run/walk at 8:45. We lined up along with everyone else, and it took nearly 30 minutes for everyone to cross the starting line. There were folks in wheelchairs and on crutches; the blind and the hearing-impaired; babies in strollers and the elderly in Nikes. Most had listed the names of loved ones on tags that were pinned to their backs. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, friends. The woman who helped organize our group lost her mother last June. She’d run in each of the two early races before joining her twin daughters and the rest of us for the run/walk.
Neighborhood residents along the route were fantastic. Many stood on their lawns and cheered us on, played music or camped out with signs and lawn chairs watching the pink procession. Pets sported pink ribbons, and at least a dozen homeowners had rigged sprinklers or misting stations in front of their homes to cool us off.
I started to slow a little during Mile Three, but picked up again after I’d taken a good look at the people around me. There was a woman in a pink “Survivor” t-shirt, walking unsteadily with a man who had his arm around her sweaty shoulders. Another woman was with a small group, and she was carrying a large “Team Nancy” sign. Two guys dressed in pink socks, shiny pink shorts, t-shirts, scarves and sunglasses – volunteers, I figured – jogged up to the woman and asked if they could run her sign across the finish line, then bring it back to her. She agreed. They asked, “What’s your name?” “Nancy,” she said. Off they went.
I saw a handful of bald women; a group in Muslim attire; both men and women in company-sponsored t-shirts with humorous-yet-meaningful statements, and lots of “breast friends.” It was a wonderfully diverse crowd, and everyone was so, very friendly.
A short, stocky woman in a bright-blue t-shirt breezed past, all by herself. There were five names listed on her back. Godspeed, lady. I had less than a mile to go, and I was feeling a little icky and weak from the heat. I scolded myself for not appreciating the fact I had no one’s name to wear on my back, squared my shoulders and strode to the finish line, where volunteers and others cheered everyone on. They must have been cheering for at least 20 minutes, but their enthusiasm for each one of us never waned.
Soon as I crossed the finish line, I slowed down and dropped back, watching the back of my daughter’s head disappear in the crowd ahead. I was only perhaps 100 yards from Elite’s gathering site, but I wasn’t feeling at all well and didn’t want anyone to notice. How dare I show weakness amidst true heroes?
I was nauseous. I’d poured the last bit of water on my head, and felt that if I drank any more, I would puke. Time to call the hubby to rescue us, but I couldn’t feel my fingers. I looked down at my swollen appendages. My wedding band was squeezing the life out of my ring finger. When I reached Sky, I asked her to make the call. She, of course, was fresh as a daisy. I want to be like her when I grow up.
I’d stopped moving, and could feel my face, feet and ankles swelling. Feeling faint, I leaned against a nearby tree. Sitting down on the ground wasn’t an option because 1) my feet would swell so much it would be difficult to walk and 2) a bite from one of these Southern ants can send you to the hospital. As pictures were being taken, I slipped away and slowly headed to the drop-off point to wait for Bobby.
An icy, sweet drink and two naps later, I started to once again feel normal. Google says I’d suffered a bit of heat exhaustion, and the swelling is normal for amateur walkers, especially cows.
I’m now more determined than ever to do the Charlotte walk in October. Like Saturday’s, this one is also a 5K. The weather will be cooler, I’ll be in better shape . . . and smarter. This time, it’s about three G’s: Gratitude. Granola. Gatorade.
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. ~ Nelson Mandela
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.