Why We Walk: AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast CancerOctober 18, 2015
AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer is a two-day, 39.3-mile trek in seven cities across the country to raise funds for research, awareness, and education, while providing assistance for families of people diagnosed with breast cancer.
This past weekend, more than 3,500 people participated in the AVON 39 walk in New York City, and raised more than $8.7 million. Since 2003, AVON 39 walks have raised nearly $590 million through the dedication of 220,000 participating women and men from across the country, including thousands of Avon Associates and Representatives.
AVON 39 walks take place in Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Santa Barbara each year. The events occur between April to October, rain or shine. The number 39 represents the length of a marathon and a half—the distance AVON 39 walkers traverse during the two-day event.
Amongst these walkers is AVON 39 National Ambassador Jill Surdyka, a ten-year walk veteran. “Like so many people, my life has been touched by breast cancer through family and friends, so in 2005 my good friend and I decided we wanted to do something about it. We signed up for the AVON 39 in Boston and have been hooked ever since. We met so many people along the way and heard stories of perseverance and strength – we were just beyond moved.”
To become a 39er, walkers fundraise a minimum of $1,800. Though this can be a challenging sum to raise, it means each walker represents a significant contribution and impact to the breast health cause. AVON 39 events attract groups of passionate and hard-working walkers who, like Jill, return each year. “My friend and I made it a tradition of ours and have been walking every year since. All of my friends and family expect me to do it every year, they expect my donation emails and are really supportive.” Dedicated 39ers have collectively walked 6,868,000 miles with smiles, determination and a sense of humor.
Leading up to the event, 39ers train together in groups and are assigned walker coaches who are there “every step of the way” to offer training motivation and advice. There is also an active online community encouraging support and encouragement.
People take on AVON 39 for a variety of reasons and are encouraged to dedicate their walk to someone. At the beginning of the first day, 39ers are given connection bands to show off who they are walking for: for yourself because you’re a survivor or are living with breast cancer, for someone you love who has breast cancer, for someone you’ve lost, or for everyone.
The opening ceremony usually kicks off around 6:30am, and an emotional part of the opening ceremony is when 39ers are invited to raise up their hands to show who their walk is dedicated to. “It’s an unbelievably powerful thing to see,” explained Jill. “It shows we’re all in this together even though we all have our own reasons for walking. At the end of the day, we’re all here because we all want to see an end to this disease forever.”
Along the walk route are designated cheer stations to give each 39er’s community, as well as the general public, a place to take part in the walk. “We definitely encourage people to come out and cheer—our walkers are walking for a really long time. The cheering and the support pumps you up,” said Jill. “The walk is also a great way to educate people about doing good, as well as remind people about breast health. You see breast health a lot in the news, especially in October, but when there’s a walk in your neighborhood, it might remind you to get a mammogram.”
39ers and their sponsors learn how their efforts will directly impact their communities, as each event ends with a closing ceremony in which local beneficiaries including researchers, doctors and nonprofit leaders are presented with checks and given the opportunity to talk about their latest work.
Avon Foundation beneficiaries are also stationed throughout the walk at cheering stations to support the 39ers. In San Francisco, for example, San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center parked its mobile mammogram van on the route, to show what the 39er donations helped to fund.
Teams of doctors and hospital staff also attend walks to cheer on 39ers, while others are on-hand for medical assistance and on-site first aid care. In between the two days of walking, 39ers can choose to spend the night in tents at a pop-up Basecamp, which fosters further camaraderie and support among walkers and volunteers.
At this weekend’s AVON 39 in New York City, talk show host Wendy Williams stopped by the Basecamp at Randall’s Island along with some of her show’s staff members. “So many of our friends, sisters, daughters and mothers have been lost to breast cancer,” said Wendy. “The Wendy Williams Show participated in the AVON 39 New York to prove that we could tackle this challenge and help end breast cancer once and for all! We met so many amazing people, including breast cancer survivors and metavivors who have raised thousands for the cause. It made my team and I realize that we can all pitch in to help – one persistent step and donation at a time.”
Beneficiaries from this weekend’s AVON 39 NYC walk include New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center, an Avon Center of Excellence. The Avon Foundation has supported breast cancer care at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University since 2000, to support access to care and scientific research programs. This year, they received a $500,000 grant at the walk’s closing ceremony, bringing up the amount of support from the Avon Foundation over the years to over $24 million.
What else do the funds raised by AVON 39 walks contribute to? They have put food on the table for breast cancer patients and their families—specifically 365,000 meals across the country. They have supported patient navigator programs and enabled access to mammograms and medicine. Eighty thousand low-income and uninsured breast cancer patients across the country were able to access financial assistance to help them get to their doctors’ appointments through CancerCare. The walk also supports those living with metastatic breast cancer — one million dollars has been donated to support the quality of care for those living with MBC.
AVON 39 walks are challenging physically, emotionally and financially. The feats accomplished by walkers and their communities are incredibly generous and inspirational.
“AVON 39 is an opportunity to bring people together to make a difference in the lives of women and men. It’s an opportunity to help fight a disease that touches so many people,” said Jill. “There are many national initiatives that use the donations, but a large piece of the money stays in the city you walk, so you make a difference in your own community.”
Scroll through the slideshow below for more inspiring photos from past AVON 39 walks: