The bright pink posterboard is covered in names, all arranged in neat rows under the heading, “This is Why I Walk.”
Trafalgar resident Chandy Wilcoxon has divided the names on her board into two groups. More than 50 names of friends, family and people she’s known who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and gone through treatment are the “Survivors” that give her inspiration.
Another 26 people, who have been died from the disease, are her “Angels.” Wilcoxon wears the board, updated with new names, every time she takes part in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day event.
In November, she will walk in her eighth event, covering 60 miles through San Diego on foot from Nov. 17 to 19. What started as a way for Wilcoxon to honor a cousin who lost her battle against breast cancer has become a yearly way to honor all of the people in her life — and the lives of those that she’s never met — impacted by cancer around the country.
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“I’ve never experienced being told that I have breast cancer. I can’t imagine it. So because I can walk, I make this list. As the list keeps growing, I’ll keep doing it,” she said.
On the quiet trailways and side streets of Franklin, Wilcoxon puts in hours of training conditioning her body to walk 20 miles per day.
Her father lives at Compass Park, formerly the Indiana Masonic Home, so she plans her route around its campus and then branches out from there.
Training for a 60-mile event takes commitment. Komen organizers provide walking plans to help people reach the fitness level in order to complete 20 or so miles at a time.
She gets small distances during the week in the mornings and evenings. A cross trainer that she visits three times a week helps her strengthen her entire body for the walks. The weekends are for her longer distances.
Out of the seven 3-Days that she had entered, she’s completed three. Blisters, dehydration and low blood pressure have forced her to stop before the finish.
“I’ve learned that the right shoes, changing your socks and to keep up with the training is key to being able to finish each day,” she said.
The Komen 3-Day is a national event conducted at locations throughout the country. This year, the 3-Days were in seven cities, including suburban Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Walkers travel 15 to 22 miles each day depending on the route and potential stopping points.
Each participant is required to raise $2,300. All of the proceeds to fight breast cancer, either through national programs and research or local initiatives to help fund breast screenings, genetic testing and other health services, said Stephanie Myers, senior manager of the Komen 3-Day.
“It’s a great outlet for our fundraisers. For them, it is a life-changing experience,” she said. “These are men and women who are really dedicated in playing a role in the fight against breast cancer.”
Over the course of her involvement, Wilcoxon has raised nearly $21,000 for cancer research. This year, she’s surpassed her goal. By mid-October, she had brought in $3,458, and she hopes to raise more.
Wilcoxon did her first 3-Day event in 2007, in Tampa, Florida. She was inspired by her cousin who died of breast cancer. At the time, a friend of hers from high school was going through her second diagnosis of it, and many other people she knew had been touched by it in some way.
“My daughter went with me. She had seen an ad for it, and thought it sounded like a challenging thing. Plus, we had just lost a family member, and that’s what started it,” she said.
That first event was a challenge. The heat index during the walk reached 105 degrees, with torrential rains at night. Painful blisters developed on her feet; the combination of that and the heat prevented her from finishing all 60 miles.
But the experience was so rewarding that she wanted to do more.
This will be the first time she’s done the San Diego event. She’s done walks in Tampa, Arizona, Atlanta and Michigan.
The walk will pass along the Pacific Ocean, through places such as Torrey Pines State Beach, La Jolla Cove and Mission Beach, before moving into downtown San Diego.
Many of the routes pass through neighborhoods or small towns adjacent to the larger cities. So people will set up along the route, cheering the walkers on, giving them water and ice bags as they pass by.
“One time, I was thinking that I really couldn’t make it any more that day,” Wilcoxon said. “I walked by, and a little lady was sitting there in a wheelchair with her scarf on, because she was going through chemo. She just looked at me and said, ‘Thank you.’ That really got me — what was I complaining about? It kept me going.”
At the end of each night, after a closing ceremony brings everyone together, participants camp for the night, typically in a gymnasium or conference center where they’ll be protected from the elements.
“They call it the ‘pink bubble.’ Besides experiencing the walk and seeing these different cities, the walkers form these life-long bonds with each other. Every moment is full of meaning and motivation and emotion,” Myers said. “In the pink bubble, everyone feels safe and can tell their story.”
That is where Wilcoxon has made the deepest connections with fellow walkers.
“It’s quite the experience, to sit around and hear these stories,” she said. “A lot of the people walking with you are survivors, or lost someone close to them. It’s moving.”
Over the course of seven other 3-Days, Wilcoxon has developed friendships and connections with many of the other participants. She often sees the same people at the different events, giving the walks a feeling of a celebration and reunion each year.
With her Angels and Survivors sign on her back, Wilcoxon is easily recognizable, even among the thousands of walkers taking part.
“I’ve had people at the closing ceremony come up and thank me for wearing it, because it kept them going,” she said. “As we’re walking, people ask what it’s for, and when they find out who the names are, they’re like, ‘Whoa.’”
Though this is Wilcoxon’s only 3-Day this year, she plans to continue doing the events each year. She feels she owes it to the people whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer.
“I’ll keep doing it until I can’t walk for whatever reason,” she said.
What: Susan G. Komen 3-Day, a 60-mile walk during three days.
Benefits: 75 percent of the money raised goes towards national breast cancer programs and research. The other 25 percent supports local initiatives to help fund breast screenings, genetic testing and other health services.
How does the event work: Participants raise a minimum of $2,300 and walk an average of 20 miles per day for three consecutive days.
To contribute to Chandy Wilcoxon as she completes the , go to the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Website, www.the3day.org, and click the donate button. Search for “Chandy Wilcoxon” under the search field.