I have been a part of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® coaching staff for ten years now — the best job ever! For two years, I have been the Seattle Participant Support coach. The voice at the other end of a phone conversation. The fingers on the keyboard of a returned email. Coming to Seattle from my home in California, I am excited to finally meet the participants I have come to know and love from afar! Last year a back injury kept me from traveling to Seattle. This year, nothing will keep me away.
“I hope I get to meet you,” is a comment I heard often as the event approached. “I’ll be the one dressed in pink!” I tease, knowing that nearly every Komen 3-Day participant has a very pink wardrobe. Actually, we three coaches have special silver staff shirts in hopes of being easy to spot, and I am headed to Seattle, ready to celebrate with “my” participants — their months of fundraising, miles of training walks, and steadfast determination to make a difference in the fight against breast cancer.
Bags packed, boarding pass printed (TSA pre-check — yay!). My 3-Day® weekend is actually a seven day marathon, with two travel days and two days of on-site preparation before the thrill of the 3-Day itself. It promises to be the most exhilarating and exhausting week of my year. Bring it, Seattle!
Tuesday, September 15 (Travel Day)
- Travel from California to Seattle: In a strange twist of fate, drought stricken SoCal was hit with heavy rain today! My commute in the rain was not at all welcome! Meanwhile, in Seattle, I arrived to sunny skies. I’m crossing my fingers that this lovely weather holds out for the 3-Day weekend — the only thing worse than driving in rain is walking 60 soggy, rain soaked miles!
- Vehicle pick-up — Sedans, vans and box trucks, oh my! Upon arrival to SeaTac airport, my first stop is the car rental desk to pick up one of the support vehicles that will be used on event. With so many of us arriving today with the same car pick-up duties, the agent asked just what was going on. After my description of the event, I may have recruited a future walker!
- Drive to the staff hotel: This SoCal gal can navigate freeways with the best of them (thank you Siri and Waze), but I have to say, Seattle gives LA a run for its money when it comes to traffic! More on that as the week goes by….
Wednesday, September 16 (Meetings and Event Prep) Call time: 8:00 a.m. Day ends at 8:00 p.m.
- Staff meeting — Reunions and Introductions: Because my co-workers reside in cities across the country, one of the highlights of my week is the face time I have with people I speak to daily, but see maybe once a year. I also meet the newer members of the tour staff for the first time. They “met” me last year in Seattle, but it was an image of my face, taped to a stick — “Flat Paula” — who represented me when my back injury kept me from being there in person. Flat Paula no more! Hello, live Paula.
- Weather watching — doing the no-rain dance: I know, it’s Seattle. The Emerald City is one of the greenest places this SoCal native has ever seen! Rain is in the forecast, but we are hoping the clouds roll by with a wave rather than a downpour!
- Got vehicles? Why yes we do. In fact we have 52 cars/vans/minivans, and 24 box trucks to support our Seattle participants. Each one needed to be stickered, assigned, and moved to our Opening Ceremony site. I put a few miles on my Fitbit in the load-in lot, going car to car, stickering away — making sure keys were ready and incident report and insurance papers were stowed. Did I mention Seattle traffic? More on that later….
- Blisters happen — medical re-supply: Once all of the vehicles were marked and ready to roll, I joined the army of staff re-supplying the medical bins that travel to each day’s pit stops and lunch, as well as the Medical tent at the 3-Day Camp. The 3-Day medical team director, Jason, aptly named his Crew S*M*A*S*H — a nod to this army of special volunteers, and a reminder to participants to get their regular mammograms — smash those boobies!
- Breakfast anyone? One of my special duties on event is to host a continental breakfast before the Opening Ceremony for those participants who are our 3-Day “over-achievers” and have raised at least $10,000 for the privilege of walking 60 miles in Seattle’s hillscape! I am so eager to meet these rock stars, including the seven walkers who have raised over $16,000 each and are walking in all seven of our 2015 events. A quick stop at the store for a variety of breakfast items, then to the Command trailer to grab the bins filled with coffee and supplies. Breakfast isn’t until Friday morning, but as the event gets closer, the days get more hectic. I promise not to sample the goodies that are stored in my hotel room!
Thursday, September 17 (All-Crew Kick-Off and MORE!) Call time 9:00 a.m. – Day ends 6:30 p.m.
- Life in the slow lane — getting to the All-Crew Kick-Off — in traffic. Our 15 mile drive from our hotel to the Seattle Center, our Opening Ceremony site, can take up to an hour in Seattle rush hour traffic. We left early.
- Late check-in — drip, drip, drip. The rain we had hoped not to get decided to make its appearance just as we were setting up for late check-in and crew t-shirt distribution. My role was to help participants print their credentials, finish check-in and answer any questions about where their crew team was meeting. I spent the day repositioning our computers, keeping them safe from the rain that made its way inside our tent.
- Meet the Crew! Staff introductions were fun, and we all had our chance to welcome the crew and let them know a little about our 3-Day roles. Several remember my alter ego from last year, Flat Paula. I’m glad I could be there in person this year.
- Top fundraisers deserve special recognition. The Seattle Field Marketing Coach, Aubrey, and I headed out after watching ceremony rehearsals to pick up the tabletop signs I will be placing in frames as a part of our dining tent décor.
- And then there was traffic. From there, we got the all clear to head back to the hotel. 14 miles — in STT (Seattle Traffic Time) — took an hour and a half. I will never complain about SoCal traffic again!
Friday, September 18 — Day 1 Call time 4:30 a.m. Day ends at 9:30 p.m.
- Weather check: thankfully the rain that fell so steadily yesterday made its way east. We arrived at the Seattle Center with excitement in the air, and puffy clouds that gently floated by. The ground was soggy, and spirits were high!
- Welcome 3-Day walkers! The International Fountain danced merrily to music, illuminated in pink for our walkers and crew, who began assembling in front of the stage for the Opening Ceremony that would begin at 6:30 a.m.
- Breakfast anyone? I began setting up my special continental breakfast behind the stage — in the dark. Thankfully, a staff member rigged some electricity and provided some light so our special guests could find us. It was a quick hello and hug, to these delightful people I had spoken with over the phone or replied to via email. They didn’t stay long, as they wanted to watch (or were taking part in) the Opening Ceremony.
- What a view! I cleaned up and packed away the breakfast items while our participants focused on the Opening Ceremony. I stood backstage left and enjoyed my unique perspective of the crowd, the speakers and the spectacular backdrop of the Seattle Center and the Space Needle. Everyone in the crowd was moved by the words of our national spokesperson, Dr. Sheri, and Chrissy Mathews from Komen. I listened, and looked to the sky – which turned pink for just a few moments — its nod to the amazing journey our walkers were about to begin.
- We don’t camp — we Glamp! Once the walkers were on the route, it was time for us to drive back to camp. But first we had to pick up some of the goodies that make our 3-Day camp experience so special. Cupcakes, cookies and flowers — all donated by some generous individuals and businesses, made their way into our van. After a quick stop to grab some breakfast, we headed to camp to begin the process of turning basic white tents into an inviting 3-Day Lounge. Curtain backdrops. Linens. Throw rugs and assorted comfy chairs all had to be unpacked and placed in the lounge. The trail mix bar ingredients filled their dispensers. Flowers were arranged. Lanterns and accessories adorned each table. So inviting!
- Top Fundraiser Bios tell amazing stories. After we were “glamped up,” I headed to the dining tent to unpack the frames that will hold the 20 top individual and team fundraiser bios I had collected earlier while in my office. As much as I wanted to read their stories again, I had to get things set up before our first walkers arrived.
- Hello, I’m Coach Paula. My main role during the 3-Day weekend is to mingle with the participants — hands down the favorite part of my on-event work. After camp was set up, Coach Aubrey and I headed from camp to pit stop 3. Since I am known by my phone voice and email replies, walkers did not automatically recognize me. My tactic was to check in with walkers taking a short stretch break or eating a snack, ask them how their day was going so far, then say, “I’m Coach Paula.” The reactions were beyond rewarding, as people responded with a huge smile and warm hug, and their gratitude for my support over the past months. It never got old!
We returned to camp to greet walkers arriving from their first 21 miles, and the meeting and greeting continued. One highlight was meeting a husband, wife and daughter team I had been assisting with some special requirements this past year. Again, we had never met, but somehow I knew it was them when I saw them. I introduced myself, hugs ensued, and I felt the gratification of knowing I was able to make their 3-Day experience as special as it could be. I continued to mingle with walkers and crew, and then enjoyed the evening Camp Show.
I was back at the hotel by 9:30 p.m., ready for my Saturday out on the route.
Saturday, September 19 — Day 2 Call time 6:45 a.m. Day ends 10:30 p.m.
- Rise and shine! My first duty at camp today was rousting sleepy campers from the comfort of their cozy tent and on to the route. Memories of parenting a middle schooler came rushing back as I marched through the tent rows; Round 1, (Hi everyone, the route closes in 30 minutes, time to get moving.), Round 2 (Okay, 15 minutes until the route closes, you need to be dressed and ready now.), Round 3 (This is it, guys! In 5 minutes anyone not on the route will be bussed to lunch, and you can take a long nap there while you wait for the rest of the walkers to join you!). Thankfully, no walkers were left behind, and the day began.
- Walking and talking. The better part of today was spent on the route, stopping at various pit stops and lunch, being greeted by crew members (remember, they met the real me at their All-Crew Kick-Off meeting) who let me know that so many walkers had asked them, “Where is/who is Paula?” Thankfully, I had already met several walkers on Friday, and it was always fun to see them along the route.
My strategy is walking for a while with different groups, and introducing myself was such fun. Great conversations with remarkable participants. It doesn’t get any better!
- 3-Day Lounge time. My post from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. was at the 3-Day Lounge, where I invited my top fundraising walkers to meet me for a special little treat I had prepared for them. It was also a great time to sit and chat with walkers and their families who joined them for Friends and Family night.
- Dance Party! I made sure I didn’t miss dinner — the deliciously famous 3-Day mac and cheese — and enjoyed the Camp Show from the dining tent with our walkers and crew. The tradition of this night is the 3-Day dance party. I had to make good on a promise to save a dance for our 83 year old 3-Day walker, George! Sure enough, there he was, on stage with the 3-Day Youth Corps kids, dancing away, the fact that he had just walked 41 miles over two days lost on him and others whose energy was unimaginable!
- Camp breakdown. After the last walkers were tucked away in their tents, it was time to pack up the 3-Day lounge and ready it for its trip to the next event. A gentle mist began to fall as we tucked away the glamping accessories and furniture. I am going to sleep well tonight!
Sunday, September 21 — Day 3 Call time 5:00 a.m. Day ends 9:00 p.m.
- Bus time. For participants, Day 3 of the Seattle 3-Day begins with a 20 minute bus ride to the route opening at the University of Washington. My role was to welcome walkers as they got off the bus, keep them out of the path of the busses as they left to pick up more walkers, and keep the crowd happy as they waited to begin their final day of walking. More introductions of “I’m Coach Paula,” were met with more wonderful warm hugs from those who had phone or email conversations with me throughout the year.
- Route time, and more hills! Seattle is probably our most challenging 3-Day route, and Aubrey and I made it our mission to make sure walkers were prepared and properly trained before they arrived. We stopped at the largest and most boisterous Day 3 cheer station, where walkers were clearly feeling the pain of their strenuous journey. Yet they continued to smile, their blistered feet and bandaged legs making every step a challenge, some moved to tears by the show of support for their extraordinary effort. The presence of so many cheerleaders and onlookers with every sort of noise maker clearly put a little extra pep in their step. I think this was my favorite stop of the weekend!
After a stop at the lunch site, we headed back to the Seattle Center — the Closing Ceremony site — to prepare for the arrival of our tired, emotional, and empowered walkers. The site is exactly where they began their journey three days ago, and the archway at the finish said it all. 3 Days. 60 Miles. You Did It! I stood near the arch to welcome walkers to their final destination, and shared more hugs, laughter and tears.
I mingled with walkers in the Participant Finish Area as the DJ kept the music pumping. Remember George? He was dancing away, by himself, and I had to join him for one final 3-Day dance!
- You Did It! The biggest honor bestowed on the Participant Support Coach is leading the throng of 3-Day walkers into the Closing Ceremony. As we staged for the block long walk into Memorial Stadium, I received such wonderful thank you’s from so many walkers. My efforts paid off and more participants knew that I was the face behind the 800# voice and the Seattle Coaches email. We walked into the Closing Ceremony together, united in our commitment to walk until a cure is found. As the walkers and crew raised their shoes in the traditional salute to the breast cancer survivors among us, I looked to the skies to see a rainbow forming. Seattle’s weather gods were looking over us. Three rainless days, and just enough moisture in the air to provide a perfectly timed rainbow.
- Someone has to do it. After the hugs and goodbyes, the walkers headed home with their friends and families, while I grabbed a trash bag and began the task of picking up the remaining flowers, feathers, and trash left behind.
- Load out and vehicle return. After my clean up tasks were completed, I headed to Command to return my staff jacket and communication equipment, then to the load-out lot to begin the task of vehicle return — a 25 minute trip to the airport — and back for another round. The rain began falling, but no one cared. Walkers were off the route, at home or in their hotel, celebrating their 60 mile journey — and there was NO TRAFFIC!
Monday, September 22 (Travel Day)
- I had a 10:40 a.m. flight and the luxury of some extra hours of sleep was not lost on me. Waking up at 8:00 instead of 3:45 a.m. was a gift! Bags packed. Memories made. New friendships. It’s all in a 3-Day event week’s work!
- Until next year… “I’m Coach Paula!”