Walk-a-Thons Aren’t What They Used to Be

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.

9 thoughts on “Walk-a-Thons Aren’t What They Used to Be”

  1. You are right. Years ago, I used to participate in the American Cancer’s Society Relay for Life. The challenge was to have a member of your team on the track for 24 hrs straight – a lot of people camped out and tried to stay up all night. The last two years I did it there was something just so “blah” about the whole thing and no one seemed to care about that aspect – it may have been purely my attitude, but I haven’t done it in several years.

    1. I know what you mean. The first time I did Relay for Life was with Scouts, and I came fully prepared to camp out all night. My daughter and her friend ran about 5 miles, some of it in heavy rain, around the track. When the lightning started and the tornado warnings came, we flattened and rolled my tent about as fast as it’s humanly possible to do and ran for the car. (Not exaggerating – I have video on my YouTube channel from when the thunder set off all the car alarms in the parking lot, and of the two of them still running around the track.) Anyway, in later years, I didn’t bother with the tent. I stayed till it wound down around midnight and left. By the second year, though, I got honored in the Survivor’s Lap and dinner. That was a mix of heartwarming and humiliating – I mean, it was sweet (especially with friends cheering me on at various points around the track), but I felt very self-conscious. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, if you’re having fun. And I raised a decent amount of money for them. But I didn’t go last year or this year.

  2. Wow Holly, what an amazing and inspiring story. I can’t say that I would have been quite as dedicated at twelve-years-old. This gives me some motivation to get started on my new Yoga program, thanks for such a wonderful story. Lovely writing too 🙂

  3. This brought back memories of “Walk for Mankind” in eighth grade. We actually walked the walk – all twenty miles of it. No one could move the next day. We had all played around with getting in shape beforehand, but who really fully prepares for an event like this? Being sore the next day was like a badge of honor. I haven’t participated in anything like that since – a warm memory of helping others while sharing the experience with friends.

  4. Mine wasn’t a walk-a-thon but a bowl-a-thon. Up front that might not sound like much until you realize it was 24 hours with only a 5-minute break every 2 hours for the first 12 hours and then one every hour after that. And I was totally alone because back then parents didn’t hang around for stuff like that.

    I was older though, 17 and then 19; nope, didn’t learn my lesson after the first one. Still, I gave to the cause… even if I don’t remember what the cause was now. 🙂

    Good for you on continuing to push. That’s how I felt about my task.

    1. Good for you! My high game is 105, and that’s with bumpers, so hat’s off to you. I think I did 3 walks for The Match of Dimes; 1 bike a thon around the Daytona Speedway for…don’t remember; and a last 20 mile walk for Little Lighthouse for the Blind.

  5. My first walk was in April this year in a Rock Round Park, Texas, a Cystic Fibrosis Walk a Thon. entire area is so beautiful and well maintained. Being a nature lover I was enthralled with the various views available. I hope a return visit will soon be possible.

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