This photo was taken almost 4 years ago, and although its true that memories fade, and although you can't see my face in the picture, I'm pretty sure I was smiling. The dirt alone was enough to make a person cry, for heaven's sake, never mind the blisters, but I was grinning from ear to ear. I took this picture of my feet on the second day of the Boston 3-Day For the Cure, a 60-mile walk aimed at raising money and awareness to combat breast cancer. This was the first weekend in August, 2007 and it was 104 degrees. I don't think anyone's feet were made to sweat that much - so, yup - we got blisters - and heat rash - and sun burn. But no one that I encountered over those three days - and there were about 2,000 of us - no one, was whining. Why? Because the people of "The 3-Day" are a rising tide that inspires and lifts us all. I had never before been around that many strong, selfless, gracious and determined human beings in one place. The spirit of The 3-Day is infectious and I hope this blog will continue its spread. Maybe by talking about what I go through to fundraise and train for a 3-Day event, I can help people stay motivated and committed. I am proud to be associated with this cause. I am grateful I have the strength to walk. And I'm filled with joy that I can do it with such a great group of people. So I'll buck up and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Feel free to join me. But remember; no whining allowed!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's the Giggling

Yesterday, I was listening to NPR and they reported on the death of John Callahan, a man as famous for being politically incorrect as for anything else. John was a quadriplegic and his “everything is fair game” attitude got his cartoons published in the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. (My personal favorite showed a “Feminist Book Store” and the sign read, “There is no Humor Section.” I just think that’s funny.) Anyway, Gary Larson (The Far Side) was talking about his friend and fellow cartoonist and he said he really felt the two of them were kindred spirits. Then he said something that really resonated with me. He said, basically, “think about the times in your life when you laughed the hardest – literally with your sides splitting and tears running down your face. Sometimes you can laugh that hard with a group of people, but usually, you’ll find that if you’re laughing that hard, it’s during a moment that you’re sharing with just one other person.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to that. There are plenty of things in life that the general public won’t laugh with us about – gross, morbid, nonsensical or disturbing things - and you have to have that one other person who just gets it (whatever “it” might be). It’s refreshing to have a person who will laugh with you when everyone else would be crying (or vomiting, as the case may be, or just looking puzzled or worse, just looking away).

I have written here a lot about why I love “The 3 Day.” I love the way it lifts and inspires us and the way it benefits countless people while making us better individuals in the process. I love the way it represents all that is benevolent and productive about a “community,” whether that be a physical place or just a social fabric; we all learn from it and are elevated by it.

But now I think the thing I love most about The 3 Day is just the giggling. We manage to laugh a lot on the walks in spite of however hot we are, or wet, or blistered, or sore, or sunburned, or sweaty, or stinky. . . . . My tent-mate/team-mate/bestest-cousin-buddy and I find a lot of humor along the way. Sometimes we’re just laughing at what a hideous spectacle we’ve become. And there aren’t a lot of people we’d share that with.

This past Saturday evening in Boston, we walkers had been through a lot. We were about 43 miles in – having walked almost 22 that day and the conditions had been a little extreme. The heat was taking a toll on everyone and it had been unbearably humid as well. There had been fog, rain, blistering sun and boiling hot pavement with a lot of concrete sidewalks thrown in which are tough on your knees and shins. After dinner, everyone really just seemed to want to get some sleep.

I was in my tent with the screen open for ventilation, tending to my feet, when the two ladies staying diagonally across from us walked down the lane between the rows of jerry-rigged, tarped and trash-bagged tents. They could hear the horrendous snoring before they got all the way down the aisle and I watched as they realized it was coming from directly behind their tent. One of them said she didn’t think her ear-plugs could drown that out. They debated for a bit and ultimately decided to relocate their tent to the end of the row. I felt so bad for them I wanted to cry. Such a long day! Now probably all they wanted was to rest and they couldn’t. Here they were, moving their wet, smelly, disorganized stuff in near-darkness on feet that didn’t really want to take another step. To save time, they opted to clear out the heaviest stuff and then pick up the whole tent, some stuff still inside, and carry it to the new spot. Needless to say, the tent was unwieldy and they were struggling. I decided to see if they wanted any help; maybe I could lend a hand to these poor ladies who seemed to be in such a pickle.

When I stuck my head out, I could see that their tent had folded itself together in a way that made it look more two-dimensional than three and the stuff they left inside had congregated in the middle and was causing the bottom to drag. There didn’t seem to be an easy way to fix the drag-bulge while still supporting the sides. What a mess. The ladies themselves were less easily discerned. That’s because they were doubled over behind the tent laughing. It was that awesome kind of silent, no-longer-breathing laugh that you fall into when you’ve gone completely goofy. I love that laugh. That laugh is what The 3-Day is all about. Blistered feet met with a grin. Collapsed tent met with fits of laughter. Yup. That’s why we keep signing up. Of course Everyone Deserves a Lifetime. And of course we’re going to create a World Without Breast Cancer. But the other thing that brings us back year after year is just the giggling.

I got back into my tent. The ladies clearly didn’t need me. Nope – those two kindred spirits had each other.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Final Countdown

One week from today, people; one week from today.

A couple of things happened on Wednesday that are relevant to this adventure we are about to have next week. First, I had a mandatory conference call with Boston 3-Day for the Cure Field Coordinator, Meredith. This was for official training walk leaders who are to serve as auxiliary safety monitors for the actual walk event. Our job is to remind people not to talk on their cell phones or listen to their I-pods en route and to help watch out for signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration, etc. among the ranks. It was a good conference call because it got everybody excited and enthused for next week. Everyone involved was an experienced walker and we took some time to share stories and “take-aways” from past events and training walks.

Meredith is very passionate about her job and she always seems to have inspiration and motivation to spare even as she enters that stressful crunch-time right before her big weekend. I had noticed at the kick-off Get Started Meeting way back in March that she likes to use quotes to begin and end her meetings, conferences and trainings – to help set the tone and get everyone in the right frame of mind for what they are about to undertake. The one that she used Wednesday night that really stuck with me was, “Courage doesn’t always roar.” Granted, life has its share of moments that demand the loud kind of courage – where we must shout down the enemy (whatever/whoever that might be); fight it off with everything we have, screaming, cursing or grunting as we go. But, if you think about it, you probably see the quiet kind of courage every day. You may not even notice it – you may be too distracted by the more boisterous, faux courage; the kind that, like the Cowardly Lion, roars loudly, but doesn’t actually possess any resolute bravery. It may be in the shy kid giving a book report at school; or the firefighter who lives down the street but doesn’t talk much about his job; or the chemo patient that never takes a sick day. I would like to suggest that we all tune-in to this element over the next few days and show praise and support for quiet courage everywhere that we can. Maybe it will spread. . . .

As an aside, several of us tried to get information about the walk details from Meredith that haven’t been readily available to date (like the exact location of camp. . . .) but we were unsuccessful. The only thing I learned that I didn’t already know is that this year’s event caterer providing meals in camp will be the same caterer that served the Vancouver Olympics. So we should all expect some decent grub next weekend. Not that the food has ever been bad – and certainly in no short supply – they don’t call it “The 3-Day Buffet” for nothing!

The other thing that happened on Wednesday was quite unexpected. I was asked to be a flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of The Boston 3-Day for the Cure. I could not be more thrilled and honored about this and am really looking forward to it. I will need to go to Framingham earlier than planned on Thursday for a rehearsal, which, of course, will only add to the excitement. I look forward to writing about that – I believe I will see the 3-Day Walkers from a different perspective than I have in the past – having always been packed into the middle of them. I may actually get to see the forest through the trees this time. . . . What I’m getting at is, I do plan to keep up with this blog even after the 3-Day is over, because I think I will still have plenty of things to ruminate about, lend perspective to and just plain get off my chest (so to speak) post-event and well into the future.

So let the Final Countdown begin – I am already checking the Weather Channel web page several times a day (possible thundershowers Sunday, but that could change!) and have taped my packing list to my rolling duffle so I’m ready to start checking things off. Also, as of yesterday morning, my hair is streaked pink and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. In terms of last minute tips, I would offer the following: Dry Feet are Happy Feet; Equal amounts of water and Gatorade seem to serve most people well in the heat; Pre-hydrate! (Drink extra fluids the day before!); Advil PM is a great invention (so are Tiger Balm and ear plugs); Don’t forget your tent decorations (even if you’re not in a streamers and garlandy mood, they help you identify your spot in an ocean of pink sameness)! Finally, remember that all you really need to have a life-changing 3-Day Experience are a well-trained body and an open heart. Enjoy every minute!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who, What, When and Where

The word nostalgia is derived from two Greek words – nostos, meaning 'homecoming', and algos, meaning 'pain'.

The medical professionals who coined the word nostalgia in the late 18th century were describing a serious emotional and physical condition wherein sufferers were incapacitated by the despair of homesickness. It was a debilitating disorder and was even grounds for removal from military service if it was perceived as compromising a soldier's sense of purpose.

Today though, it simply describes wistful thoughts of earlier times and places.

I mentioned in a prior post that I recently returned from vacation. I traveled from my home in Rhode Island to the remotest corners of southwest Virginia where I grew up. My mother’s family was having a big family reunion (she was 1 of 11 kids) so I packed up my boys and headed for the mountains.

I have a lot of nostalgia for my hometown. Everything about it is different from where I live now. It gets dark a full half hour later in the Summer and there are literally thousands of lightning bugs out at dusk (compared to zero at my house). There's no iced coffee to be found. The coffee is black and strong and always hot. The tea is sweet and cold.

The pace of life at my house in Rhode Island is perpetually hectic. But when we vacation at my parents' home, the laws of physics seem to go right out the window. Velocity and speed are different functions there. A body in motion does NOT tend to stay in motion in Glade Spring, Virginia. You rest or move depending on who needs a push on the swing, how many ears of corn need to be pulled for dinner and how long the ice lasts in the drink before you have to raise yourself from the lawn chair and return to the house for a re-fill. Breakfast isn't a bowl of cereal wolfed down or a granola bar eaten in the car. Its French toast, bacon, muffins and fresh fruit every day. Lunch is pimiento cheese on toast and dinner is garden fare - with everything on the plate coming from the land you're sitting on. By contrast, in Rhode Island, the closest we get to "locally grown" is probably the Chinese take-out place that got cited a little while back for serving seagull.

Yes, I exaggerate, but only to show, in no uncertain terms, what a romantic view I have of the place where I grew up compared to every other place on earth, including the place I now call home. I definitely slip on a pair of rose-colored glasses every time I start down Interstate 81. In my head, its an idyllic world down there where time moves more slowly and everybody waves when you drive by. But on this most recent visit, the glasses came off and I think I saw clearly for the first time in a while. It happened the moment I watched pigeons fly out of the broken second story window of a formerly stately, but now derelict, turn-of-the-last-century Main Street building.

We all know that small towns across America have suffered of late, losing jobs and business to the "big box" chains first, and then to a sour economy in general. Storefronts sit empty and over time, the vacant buildings succumb to weather and wildlife. Owners lose the ability to maintain them without income and the results are devastating to the character of the place. Once grand architectural details crumble, glass cracks, paint peels, water gets in (along with stray dogs and squirrels). Pretty soon foundations start to heave, bricks break and roofs collapse. Nearly every little town I spent time in as a kid has experienced this to one degree or another. I grew up in a town of 1,200 people. There's only so much of this our country's truly small towns can take without appearing to be left for dead.

The same day I made my revelatory pigeon observation, I read a piece in TIME Magazine by humor essayist Joel Stein, expressing similarly severe nostalgia for his hometown of Edison, New Jersey. He took a serious beating from his writing peers for the piece (perhaps deservedly so) which was actually about immigration. Read it and decide for yourself here:,9171,1999416,00.html

But Mr. Stein's under-lying theme resonated with me nonetheless. It seemed to be about how "you can't go home again." The reason obviously being that "home" never continues to exist as you remember it. For example, I stared at the building where Lonnie's Market had long provided cold popsicles for a nickel on a hot day. I remembered the inside of the squatty little space clearly, even though it had been 30 years since I stepped foot in the place. There were wooden shelves and only one cash register. They had penny candy and "sewing notions." You could buy an RC Cola and a Moon Pie and stand there chatting while you ate it. God only knows what's going on inside that building now. . . In that sense, there's little that's recognizable about the Town where I grew up. So many people my age have left for lack of opportunity. I began to seriously question the sanity of a person who would feel homesick for such a depressing little place.

But another thing happened the day I watched the pigeons access their newly acquired real estate and it made me put my rosey glasses back on.

My Mom works out at "Curves" almost every day. She has always said nice things about the lady who runs the place, Robin. Robin allowed Mom to put out a cutely decorated 3-Day donation box for her patrons to help with my fundraising. I wanted to meet Robin and thank her for that so I went with Mom and the plan was, I would walk some laps around downtown to get some training miles in while she did her Curves routine. As we approached the glass entry door of the old brick building, it opened from the inside before we quite got to it. I don't remember exactly what was said, but the next thing I know, I'm pulled inside this adorable little place where everyone is all smiles and this Robin lady has both arms fully around me. And I'm hugging her back and it's the most warm and genuine hug I have ever received from a total stranger. This was no token peck (classic Rhode Island); and not a simple pat or that brief, awkward squeeze we've all gotten at one time or another from a distant relative or touchy-feely co-worker. This was the real deal. This is what makes me homesick.

There's something about these small-town, mid-Atlantic, Appalachian people. They are friendly and hospitable like all southerners. But they are also humble, respectful and self-sufficient in a way that makes them come across as a little more private and even stand-offish to outsiders. At the same time, they are strong and loyal and would gladly sacrifice selflessly for any member of their clan or community. Once they identify you as one of their own, the outpouring of affection is authentic, immediate and permanent. I don't think you get this to the same degree in places where the crowd is less home-grown and everyone is from somewhere else. You start to miss it. Its rare to be pulled in and so fully embraced by people unknown to you. This kind of acceptance and love only comes from one place; home. Whether you're in city or suburb, farm or village, coast, mountain, or tented camp in a 3-Day host community. . . . It occurs to me that the reason I'm so fond of The 3-Day may have to do with pure nostalgia. The short-lived spirit of togetherness is a trip down memory lane and it is generated by people who aren't part of your family and aren't from where you're from. You are welcomed and embraced just the same. After all, it is the event where the secret handshake is a hug.

I thought I was homesick for a certain time and place before. Now I know it's not about a "where" or a "when." It's about a who. So, for the whole of my 3-Day family, and everybody else out there, wherever you go, may the people you're with make it home.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two Weeks Away

AAaaahhhh - I breathe a sigh of unenthused acceptance as I re-enter reality after being on vacation last week. Apologies to all who checked in here expecting to see an update that just didn't come. I had every intention of posting while I was away, but I guess I just got toooo relaxed - which isn't a bad thing. But I must say that when I got back and received the "Two-Week Training Alert" I think I had some sort of minor convulsion! Wow - time really does fly when you're having fun! So now we, the Boston Walkers, have access to all our route and cheering station information and at least a general idea of where camp is - and we have been ordered to print out our credentials next Friday and be ready to go! I am happy to report that I finally met my fund-raising minimum while I was away so I won't have that to worry about during "crunch time." Thanks to all who contributed - we couldn't do it without you!!

The photo I have included shows where I spent last week - Natural Tunnel State Park in Virginia. We did quite a bit of walking and maybe you can tell from the picture that its hilly to say the least. I went with a group of kids, ages 6 - 16 (my children and various nieces, nephews and cousins) down to the tunnel and then back up and out again. I have to admit, there was the slightest hint of a whine emanating by the end - but for the most part, the kids did great! It was a challenging hike and I am very proud of them.
I have a number of other things that I want to say about my vacation because my eyes were opened to a couple of realities that I think are both interesting and relevant. But I think I will save them for next time because there seems to be something more pressing that has come up. Some of you who follow other 3-Day blogs may have seen 3-Day Ambassador John Welsh's recent posts at his site (He is also the Dallas Energizer Keep Going Blogger) He is a proponent of an idea that originated here at "Whining Causes Blisters." Back before Fathers' Day, I wrote a piece in honor of all the men associated with The 3-Day and suggested that they collectively be named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." You can find the post here under the title "Thanks Guys." We are now trying to push this idea at People and are hoping others will join us. We are asking that people send letters to the editors at the magazine encouraging them to consider doing something to recognize "the men of the 3-day." I have written a letter that I would be happy to share as a template or starting place and you could add your own details - or - just copy it verbatim and "second the nomination!" If you would like to participate, please let me know and I'll help any way that I can. Letters should be sent to Thanks a lot - let's make this happen!