Walking to raise money for charity is nothing, these days. By that, I don’t mean it’s not a fun and worthwhile, healthy activity that does good – just that there’s really no challenge in it if you get the same donation whether you walk or oversleep and miss the event altogether.
I remember signing up for the March of Dimes twenty-Mile Walk-a-Thon, as a kid. I eagerly solicited pledges and particularly enjoyed the large, $1-2/mile pledges from adults I knew had sized me up and bet against me. I’ll show you, I thought. My determination grew stronger with each skeptic’s raised eyebrow.
The morning we started the walk, it was chilly – maybe 60 degrees. I was dressed in jeans, thick socks, tennis shoes, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. I carried a lightweight backpack with a different pair of shoes, and hoped to be carrying the sweatshirt if the day got warmer.
Instead, less than five miles into the walk, it started to rain. By seven miles, it was snowing. By ten or twelve miles, it was snowing hard. Another walker, a teenaged boy, and I huddled together in doorways of downtown Akron businesses for warmth. We couldn’t see anyone walking ahead of us or behind us, and assumed that most had given up. We were tempted to give up, but neither of us were quitters and I guess we were full of adrenaline. One thing was certain, though – we had to get warm and dry, and I had to get a change of clothes, or we were going to die.
We looked down the side street; the only business that appeared to be open was the Chat Noir Lounge. We shuddered at the neon sign and decided that was no place for us – especially as it was about a block off the main route and no one was likely to find us there if we ran into trouble. Our only other choice was the no-tell motel nearby. The clerk was gay and openly so; he was also quite gracious about letting two sopping wet, half-frozen kids use the phone and sit in the lobby, dripping onto the vinyl chairs and linoleum floor.
We waited while my parents brought me a change of clothes; I dressed in the back seat of their car. My legs were blue from the dye on my jeans; the jeans had frozen stiff and stuck to my legs, cracking at the knees each time I bent them. My parents explained that the March of Dimes was giving the full twenty miles’ credit to anyone who managed to make it to the fifteen mile mark, in view of the horrible weather and hardship involved in making it that far.
The young man with me – I don’t know that we ever exchanged names – and I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. My parents agreed, though they’d have preferred to take me home right then and there, and to heck with claiming fifteen miles, let alone twenty. So we trudged onward, though knee deep snow. We checked in at the fifteen mile mark, and kept trudging. At 18 miles, the sun came out. I stopped at Wendy’s for a burger; the young man went on, knowing that if he stopped again, his legs would quit working. I hurried to catch up, after wolfing down a double with cheese.
We both made it, and claimed our twenty miles. I saw him briefly, at the mall; we grinned at each other and hugged, as if we’d survived a war. I never saw him again. I was especially proud to collect on my pledges that year, knowing I’d really earned every penny. I was just 12 years old at the time.