Avon sells walkers on battling breast cancer


May 11, 2004|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JENNIFER ATKINS says breast cancer is every woman's cause. That's why the stay-at-home mom spent a weekend away from her family recently to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, a project of the Avon Foundation.

On May 1 and 2, two days that might normally have been filled with soccer practice and errands, Atkins, who lives in Oakland Mills, and her friend Emily Aubin of Kings Contrivance walked 39 miles.

The event, which drew 1,900 walkers and 300 volunteers, started at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, wound around the monuments, dipped into Maryland and ended where it began, at L'Enfant Plaza, on May 2. Walkers had the choice of completing the full marathon-and-a-half or a less challenging distance of 13 miles a day, a full marathon over two days.

Atkins and Aubin didn't need to bring anything but a good pair of shoes. Meals were provided. Drinks and snacks were available along the route.

Walkers slept in tents in a Wellness Village set up at Catholic University. Showers, yoga and entertainment awaited them there. The Washington walk, the first of six events planned in cities across the country, raised $5.2 million, said Susan Heaney, a spokeswoman for the Avon Foundation. The proceeds benefit national and local organizations pursuing breast cancer research, education and outreach programs.

"There is a new diagnosis of breast cancer every three minutes in this country," Heaney said. "There is a death every 14 minutes. ... In Maryland, there will be 4,100 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed this year. Eight hundred people will be lost to the disease."

The statistics may be grim, but the event was uplifting.

"The weekend was just an amazing experience," said Atkins who also participated in an Avon three-day walk in 2002. "No one in my family has breast cancer, but it affects everyone. We heard awesome stories from survivors and people who lost family members. Someone is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes in this country. I don't ever want my children to see me go through that."

Aubin, mother of Sam, 9, and Flora, 5, signed on to the walk because Atkins asked her to.

"It was really the perfect challenge," Aubin said. "I turned 40 this year. I am faced with getting a mammogram for the first time. My dad's mom had a double mastectomy; my son's godmother passed away from breast cancer. On the walk, we got to meet survivors."

The friends began training for the 39-mile trek in January. Atkins bought a book about the paths in Columbia, and the women got to know them well. The two walked on ice and through rain.

"We walked seven miles two or three times a week, usually with at least one child in tow," said Atkins, mother of Andrew, 5, and Ben, 2, who made good use of her stroller. "We would walk 10 miles on a weekend day."

In addition to their walks, Aubin incorporated training into her daily routine.

"When I was running errands, I would walk instead of taking the car," she said. "My kids' school is a mile away, church is three miles; even pushing the lawnmower was good training."

Walking was not the only challenge. To ensure that the event would yield a significant amount of money, each walker was required to raise at least $1,800.

"The fund raising turned out to be so much easier than I thought it would be," said Aubin, who raised $2,025 by sending e-mail and talking to family and friends. "People - especially people who have been affected by it - are just really willing to give."

Although this is the second Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, the Avon Foundation has supported breast cancer research and education since 1993, raising $300 million.

At the close of this year's event, checks totaling $1,300,000 were donated to local charities, including Washington-based Food & Friends, which serves meals to breast cancer patients and their families, Howard University Hospital and Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University.

The weekend started with check-in Friday evening. The women left Columbia at 4 a.m. Saturday. "It started with a 2,000-person stretch at around 7 o'clock in the morning," Atkins said. "Then we were off."

The walk wasn't about being in perfect condition. It wasn't about finishing.

"You could walk just one mile, and it would be OK," Atkins said. "The camaraderie was amazing. Everyone was so supportive."

In spite of the seriousness of the cause, there were light times.

"People were cheering all along the route," Atkins said. "There was a guy wearing a cow suit that was there every couple of miles. Each of the mile-marker stops had a different theme: one was a Hawaiian luau; one was a Texas hoedown - so they kept you entertained."

And there were moving times.

"After we crossed the finish line, we stayed and cheered people on. We saw a woman come in; she was met by her daughter, who is a survivor. They hugged and burst into tears," Aubin said.

But not all of the experience was uplifting.

"The line for the showers was really long. I had really sore feet after 26 miles, and even worse on the second day. And when we were camping, we could hear everyone else in their tents talking while we were trying to get some sleep," Aubin said. "The walk was full of ups and downs, just like life."

Information: 1-877-WALK- AVON, or www.avonwalk.org.

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