A Walk in the Parks

Fall is the start of the Walk, Ride, and Run season for a variety of charities from the Terry Fox Run to the Ride for the Cure. One group that has caught my attention is the Weekend to Breast Cancer Walk in Toronto. Here is slight diversion on how I met this particular charity.

I happened upon the Walk while covering the Great White North’s Dragonboat Racing down at Ontario Place in September of last year, 2005. I was taking pictures of the dragonboat heats in the early afternoon and noticed a father carrying a sn while two slightly older daughters ran along the causeway fence yelling encouragement to their Mom. She was a paddler in one of the dragonboats.

Go here for last year’s Walk pictures

They ran the full 500 meters of the race course. I was impressed. And then, as Paul Harvey has been wont to say, the rest of the story came over GWN’s race-results loudspeakers – “Dragons Abreast took first place in this heat of the Breast Cancer survivors race…”. Ohhh.

Not more than fifteen minutes later a trickle of women in costumes started to dot the bike and stroller traffic along the walkway. But these gals were not completely random. They were always headed East and they were wearing sometimes rather wry costumes and other times outlandish variations on pink. When the trickle started to become a stream of pink and punky, my curiosity was piqued enough to go down to the walkway and ask some of the pedestrians in pink what was up. “We are part of the 2 day 60km Breast Cancer Walk”. Ohhh.

So I asked more and found out that they had started down at the nearby CNE-Canadian National Exhibition yesterday and had walked the 30km out to Downsview Airport ground, camped overnight and had retraced their steps back to the CNE. Impressive!

The Breast Cancer Walk is interesting because it takes advantage of the park and ravine geography of West Toronto and has walkers follow the Humber River valley through a series of connecting parks and then following the Ontario Lakeshore for good chunks of its distance and finaly ends at the CNE. It is just a walk in the Parks of Toronto.
Given that it was a sunny and hot day, I suggested to a group of walkers in Pink Sort-of-Halos that the stretch along the lakeshore might be appreciated for the cool breezes. And it certainly was. But a lot of the Halos … uhhh walkers commented that it was nice to have some cross traffic with other hikers, bikers etc. This made the walk more interesting. Also the sailboats and vistas on the lake plus the “big canoe” races added interest. That interest perked up when I told the Halos that the next race had dragonboats “manned” by Cancer survivors. Despite my slip of the tongue, the Halos/walkers were impressed and stopped to cheer and watch the race.

Meet the Halos and friends here

Later I learned from another group of Breast Cancer walkers that they were aware of the dragonboat races and some had friends out on the water. But in general, most walkers were blissfully unaware of Dragons Abreast, Survivor Thrivers, Knot A Breast, Georgina Damselflyers and other Breast Cancer Survivor dragonboat teams, many of which were racing down the course in many of the open race categories. Ohhh.

New Year, Better Coverage

So this year, I made sure to reserve time to go down to Dragonboat Festival with a bonus that I would get to see the the Breast Cancer Walkers and help spread the word about what and who …. BzzzzzT. Somebody had locked the gate along the Causeway – the Breast Cancer walkers were fenced out – and had to walk somewhat dangerously right next to Lakeshore Drive. Ohhhh – what a gaffe!
So if the walkers were going to be forced to take a detour around the dragonboat racing, I decided to take a detour too. I decided to find out more about the Weekend to Breast Cancer Walkers.
And the first thing I found about their trek is that 60 kilometers over two days is formidable. I have distant memories of doing Vermont’s Long Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail in BC and the Applachian in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (spectacular, especially in the Fall). 25-35 kilometers per day was a very good distance to cover. More recently I have been doing 15-20 kilometer Bruce trail hikes which are not trivial. But clearly two days of 30 kilometers each is physically challenging for any walker. Towards the end of the hike the chance to stretch muscles or sit down for a respite while waiting for lights to turn is a break not passed up by many a walker. The 5400 Breast cancer walkers certainly “earn” their pledges – totalling $17 million this year.

Find a seat to rest your weary feet somewhere here.

But clearly this walk is a lot more than funds for Breast Cancer research. It is about families coming together. There are a few kids and husbands on the walk; but make no mistake 80-90% are women. What struck me in the latter stages of the walk is the number of families that were literally coming together. Mom had been away for nearly two complete days. Pops and kids were concerned and were clearly glad to see Mom again. Pops and kids were proud to see that Moms could accomplish this major feat. Pops and kids showed that by being there with greetings, flowers, hugs and kisses and maybe a new or renewed respect for what their Mom could do.

Greet some of the families here.

This walk is about individuals coping with the blow that can be a breast cancer diagnosis to themselves, in their family or circle of friends. Life’s flow is upset, even toppled. Family, friends and comrades may be taken early. Treatment can literally be a body blow. Fear stalks the future at every medical examination. To get the cancer monkey off one’s back and regain a sense of control over one’s life takes courageous action. This takes strength and stamina and the ability to demonstrate that to oneself and friends and family. The walk is one way to do so – to be pro-active by raising funds to help in the treatment but also by finding or asserting one own strength and stamina. This walk shows many portraits of resolve and courage.

Look at some portraits in courage here.

Finally, this walk is about personalities. Breast Cancer, and other diseases for that matter, try the soul and the ability of people to cope. What comes through in the pictures of this walk is the range of personalities and approaches to respond to Breast Cancer. Clearly with names like Boobs on Bikes or dragonboaters with Knot a Breast – there is trenchant humor. But also look at the camraderie and the personalities on parade. There is more than Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls just want to have fun”. Engaging friends and family and just having a good time is a new or renewed challenge – the walk certainly provides the opportunity to hone those skills.

Click to Conga dance with more personalities here.

Yes, I know Lung Cancer in the last 2-3 years has crept ahead of Breast Cancer as enemy number one for women. But nonetheless, about this time next year, I will reserve time for dragonboating again. But a notch ahead will be to see what the Walkers are up to and to portray some other aspects of their journeys.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006