Today is Flag Day in the United States, and while we all should honor the Stars and Stripes in our hearts, here at the 3-Day, we have some flags of our own that carry very special meaning too.
At our Opening and Closing Ceremonies and in camp, we are surrounded by flags and banners with inspirational words and phrases, giving us motivation, encouragement and hope. One of the most powerful moments of each Closing Ceremony is when we raise the final flag over a sea of triumphant walkers, crew members and survivors, signifying our commitment to a world without breast cancer.
We also raise a very special flag in camp on the first two nights of each 3-Day event. This flag is carried into camp, amidst incredible fanfare, by the last walker to arrive each day.
It’s a beautiful tradition on the 3-Day. Instead of celebrating the first walker to make it across the finish line like most other races do, we instead ignite everyone already in camp to come out and cheer in the last walker. With their arrival, our 3-Day family is complete for another night.
So to tie in with Flag Day, we gathered some thoughts from a few of our last walkers from the 2015 events, sharing what that experience and that special flag meant to them.
Kathryn Labbe, who lives in Mesa, AZ, was the last walker (along with her teammates) on Day 1 of the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day last year. Kathryn has participated in the 3-Day every year since 2006 (except 2014), and will be walking this year in the Twin Cities. When asked how that Day 1 was for her last year, she said, “My day was long, hot and exhausting, but fun. It was great fun being last walkers. We were so happy to have made it to camp. We didn’t care if we were last.” Kathryn reminds us, “It’s a walk, not a race.”
At the 2015 Atlanta 3-Day, Julie Hipple, a five-time walker and a stage IV breast cancer survivor, was our inspirational camp speaker on Friday night, sharing her experience with metastatic disease and Komen’s impact on her treatment. On Saturday, Julie continued to inspire her fellow Atlanta 3-Dayers by raising the last walker flag at the end of Day 2. She describes that day as “Awesome, exhausting, memorable. My feet were sore from kicking cancer’s butt all day!” For someone who has had such an emotional and personal connection with breast cancer, the experience of walking into camp and raising the flag was, as Julie put it, “Amazing! Being a stage IV survivor, every step is an accomplishment. Walking into camp was like going home…to my 3-Day family!” Julie will be walking this year in San Diego for the first time. She also shared this very important message: “I always support the 3-Day event specifically because 75% [of net proceeds raised] goes to support research, which is literally keeping me alive. The treatment I’m on now is a new drug that is a result of Komen research dollars at work!”
On Day 3, walkers end at the Participant Finish Area before heading into Closing as one big group, but we still announce and celebrate the arrival of the last walkers. At the Philadelphia 3-Day last year, the last walker on Day 3 was none other than Aubrey Cushing, our very own Seattle 3-Day coach. Philly was her 8th 3-Day (she’ll be walking there again this year for #9), and she says this about her condition as she neared the end of her 60 miles last year: “It was so hard. My feet were blistered and bleeding. I finally decided to take off my shoes and walk barefoot the last five miles into closing.” Aubrey told me about what continued to push her through to the end: “I loved the Philadelphia community, so that made it much easier to endure the mileage. Besides that, I had a great teammate that walked almost every step of the way with me. Towards the end of the day, the three of us on my team made sure we held hands and crossed the finish line together. My husband, two sisters-in-law, brother-in-law, nieces and nephew were all there, plus all of the crew and other walkers. It was the most magnificent moment ever. I was walking for a friend of the family who was going through a difficult battle with breast cancer. All weekend long when it got tough to walk, I kept thinking, “Vanessa Strong, Vanessa Strong, Vanessa Strong.” Vanessa is a thriving survivor today and I am so inspired by her strength when things got tough.”
Whether you’re the first walker to finish, the last walker, or one of the thousands somewhere in between, every step you take is bringing about tremendous impact and making a difference. And whether you raise the flag or cheer for someone else who does, every one of us can share in celebrating the small victory of being one day closer to ending breast cancer.