Before the sun rises over Santa Barbara on a typical weekend morning, the streets are largely deserted. But Saturday, as one got closer to Chase Palm Park along the waterfront, a pink crowd could be spotted and heard cheering in the dark.
“Thank you for taking a very long walk with us this weekend through one of the most beautiful places in America,” Avon Walk for Breast Cancer program director Eloise Caggiano told the throng after describing her struggle to overcome breast cancer eight years ago. “I will be out there walking with you, and I know that we have a long road ahead of us."
A long walk it was, spiritually and physically, for the thousands of women and men walking the 39-mile route to Carpinteria from Santa Barbara on Saturday and Sunday. Each participant must raise $1,800 to be able to participate.
Since the Avon Foundation for Women launched the Walk for Breast Cancer in 2003, it has raised more than $470 million and nearly 180,000 people have joined the walk.
The money supports breast cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, support services and scientific research within approximately 200 organizations nationwide.
The words “I will try to fix you” by Coldplay, played from speakers on stage before the opening ceremony. People in pink mingled and prepared themselves for the big walk with refreshments sponsored by Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
“We walk because we can,” said Tina Ribers of Santa Clarita, who was walking for the fourth time along with her two sisters, Lisa and Donna.
Ribers talked about the experience as energetic, overwhelming and emotional.
“People don’t realize that seeing the survivors who come here ... energizes us for three or four months afterward,” she said. “You’ll see in a moment what I’m talking about.”
As cancer survivors, family members and friends of cancer victims came on-stage to tell their stories, tears of joy and of sorrow could be seen streaming down the faces of the audience.
“She taught me to live life with no boundaries and her memory will live on in my heart forever,” said Daniel Martinez, one of the speakers who recently lost his girlfriend to breast cancer.
Martinez sobbed between words and had to catch his breath.
“You can do it!” shouted a woman from the audience, and sounds of applause filled the park.
Uplifting words and support kept Martinez going and he ended his speech with the slogan of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
“The more of us who walk, the more of us will survive,” he said.
Caggiano said someone in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. Therefore, during the two-day walk, so-called connection ribbons are given out at random every three minutes to raise awareness.
She asked everyone to raise their hands. At the same time, the sun finally peaked over the mountains, creating a light pink and blue sky.
“Now, reach out and take hold of the hands around you, completing our connection,” she said.
“Together we will cross the finish line in Carpinteria tomorrow in a world that’s a little bit better, because the more of us who walk, the more of us survive,” she said, then shouted: “Let’s go!”
The crowd cheered, let go of each other’s hands and took off, once again leaving Chase Palm Park empty and deserted on an early Saturday morning.