A month later…. the closing ceremonies

Filed under: @ 9:01 pm

You walk through the doors at the top of the stairs and you’re overwhelmed by the vision of a pink and white pulsating crowd some 15-20 feet below you.
A roar of welcome, cheers, shouts, and clapping greets you and on its heels the sudden overwhelming funk of feet (heh….heels….feet…… Sorry, it’s been a long week.)

You walk, limp, or creep down the stairs. If down hill is bad, down stairs is about 10 times worse although you do get a handrail to lean on. You’re met at the bottom by a pair of winged fairies with sparkly magic wands and you walk the gauntlet of clapping hands, cheering faces, and high fives.

The woman in the purple shirt runs her bar code reader over the credential around your neck and you’re escorted into the line of people waiting for their official finisher’s shirts.
And you’re done. You’re really, honest, for good this time really done.
And the closing ceremonies don’t start for several hours and you’re sweaty and your feet hurt like hell and oh god, there’s no real place to sit down but the floor.

I grabbed my shirt and headed for the restroom (praise Zeus! Flush toilets!). Stripped out of my damp and sweaty shirt, splashed a bit of water around, ran a comb through my hair then gave it up for a bad job and stretched my bub over my head and topped it off again with my hat. Everyone had serious hat hair.
A clean dry shirt was nice. It was a shame, I thought, that I’d not planned enough ahead and brought another pair of socks so I could change into dry socks. An even greater shame that I’d not planned ahead and brought a pair of slippers so I could change out of my walking shoes and let my poor demented feet cool off and swell up. Dammit! I knew that I’d want another pair of shoes, why didn’t I just suck it up and carry a pair of slippers with me anyway?!

Wandered out again into the crush of people. I actually finished within the first 500 so the crowd wasn’t too bad at that point. LOUD but.
Grabbed a snack, grabbed my free can of La Croix drink and stumbled over to a corner marked ‘FREE FOOT MASSAGE’. A bunch of people sitting in chairs with either blissful or painful expressions on their faces and their feet encased in these vibrating massage deelies.
Sounded like a good idea to me! And besides it was a place to sit on a chair so I could sit without having to worry about terminal leg cramps when I got up again.

MMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmm! Vibrating foot massage!
Damn that La Croix drink is nasty. Very carbonated, very quinine water-ish with only a teeny splash of fruit flavor.

Sitting and melding with my vibrating foot massager (I was one of the blissful ones once I figured out how to control the speed of the vibrations) I noticed a small stand selling various 3 Day gear in a far corner across the room.
Hm! Wonder if they’d have fresh socks? Or dare I hope, would they have……slippers?

Leaving my shoes unlaced (which was honestly the only way I was able to get them back on my feet at that point), I reluctantly gave up my happy place and went to investigate. Poking around in the wire racks I found, YIPPEEE!, a shelf full of pink-ribboned official 3 Day slippers. Official 3 Day Gear dude wandering around saw me rooting through the piles of slippers and asked: “Can I help you find a particular size?” to which I answered: “Women’s 8 1/2 swollen please!”
They even had a chair where I could sit and strip off my shoes and socks and change into my *brand new slippers*.
Never has there been a foot-gasm like that one. Hot, sweaty, swollen feet suddenly had the opportunity to be cool, dry, unconfined feet. It was MAGICAL. Especially since, to help prevent blisters, I’d kept my shoes laced super tight for the whole weekend. Aaaahhhh! Feet are cool, feet are able to spread out…… Wonderful!

I stood in the crowd at the bottom of the stairs for a while, cheering and hooting as people came in. But it was getting a little chilly and I really wanted somewhere where I could sit and not have to worry about turning into a pretzel when I stood up again. So I snuck around to the other side of the stairwell so I could wander back up into the sun again. Wonderful sunshine, and better yet, a spot to sit on the edge of one of the massive container gardens that is in between the opera house and the PNW Ballet. Cheering, hooting, and wiggling my happy swollen toes.
I watched a lot of teams go past, a lot of flags go past. One guy with his army division flag, a trio of, as it turned out, two daughters and their dad carrying the ‘GENERATIONS’ flag walking in memory of their mother and wife. And lots and lots and lots of people in little furry deely boppers. The Warming Hut Hotties were well represented this year.

An invisible announcer: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the very last 2007 Seattle 3 Day walker is now less than a mile and a half from the closing ceremonies!” and I decided that it was time to go back inside.
Besides I was hungry again and needed another snack. Weird things that sort of exercise does to your metabolism.

I reclaimed my position cuddling a pole at the bottom of the stairs as the crowd got denser and denser. All of us were EXTREMELY solicitous of others’ feet. I don’t think anyone’s feet got stepped on.
People in pink camo, people in all sorts of costumes. People that were obviously the beginnings of the medical stragglers swept up from the last check point or from too far back on the route to finish on time. People in bandages, on crutches, and held together with various types of tape.
And over it all the constant cheering and clapping (and the overwhelming funk of feet).
One of the things that I find most heart warming is that everyone who is physically capable (i.e. everyone who isn’t flat on their back with an IV catheter) to limp across the finish line is a successful walker. Doesn’t matter (no one knows anyway) how often or how far you ride in a sweep van, if you can do it you walk across that finish line and everyone treats you like everyone else. Doesn’t matter if you’ve walked 6 steps or the whole 60 miles. Competition is not a part of this event and in such a success-minded competitive society, where you’re nothing if you can’t compete and win…… If you’ve walked, you’ve won. For once, how fast, how far, and how successfully doesn’t matter.

I was standing with a team of four women, one who was a 3 peater and three who had never walked before. In between hooting and clapping we spent a lot of time chatting about the walk and what a wonderful experience it had been. We spent a lot of time talking about closing ceremonies and the shoe salute. I was responsible for the sale of another three pairs of 3 Day slippers.
The people coming down the stairs were coming more and more slowly and with more and more effort. These folks on the final approach were obviously those who had been picked up from the medical tents along the way.

The invisible announcer: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the very last 2007 Seattle 3 Day walker has arrived!”
A woman at the top of the stairs and the room went absolutely wild.

There was a lot of chaos for quite some time before the closing ceremonies could begin. The crew all needed to be rounded up for debriefing, they had to chivvy and cajole us into some semblance of order as well as get us out of the room without running us all up the stairs again.
A wise decision as it turns out. A walker coming back down the stairs from the porta-potties slipped at the top of the stairs and fell a ways. She managed to catch herself, but couldn’t stand back up again so there was a brief interval while the medics figured out how they were going to get her down the stairs. The medics got a wild round of cheering and applause as they carried her off to the medical station.

They prodded us into groups of five so I latched on to my four (as I was calling them) skinny ladies and we all limped in tandem out the side door and along Mercer Way for a while and then back around the corner of the PNW Ballet building before they let us march our way into Memorial Stadium.

I had arrived about 2 1/2 hours before the closing ceremonies started. At one point I had spoken with Andrew and he told me that he was waiting “in the nosebleed section along the right side of the stadium next to the number 7”.

The music started and despite the fact that we were linked in groups of five, despite the fact that we were all footsore and swollen….. you just have to walk to the music.
Not only do they have the snacks down to a science for this gig, they’ve got the music down to a science as well. You can’t hear this music without falling into step and kicking up your heels a (very) little.

They had us down on the football field. A series of concentric circles with the walkers on the periphery, the crew in the middle, and the survivor’s circle in the very center. I managed a spot right up against the fence separating the walkers from the crew and while we were waiting for the rest of the walkers to work their way in I looked up at the right side of the stadium, found the number 7 and, as promised, standing right next to it was Andrew with the camera on a telephoto lens.
I went a little cuckoo at that point. In a crowd of 2500 walkers with who knows how many family and friends in the stand and loud bouncy music blaring from the stage I was jumping (not very far) up and down and shrieking: “MY SWEETIE! THERE’S MY SWEETIE!” waving like a lunatic and making absolutely no impression whatsoever on Andrew who could not, of course, see or hear me in the crowd.
I was really hoarse for a few days afterwards.

The crew marched in with me screeching like a mad woman, high fiving everyone who walked past, and just about killing myself (and them) reaching over the fence to hug the Princess Van crew.

The whole stadium went quiet. And all of the survivors in their pink shirts with their honor guard and their flags came in to fill the center of the circle. I pulled the slip knot in the laces of my walking shoes loose from the strap on my waist pack, grabbed a shoe and for the first time was part of 3000 people in a silent, sweaty, shoe salute.
It seems a little corny when you’re hearing about it, when I’m writing about it, or when you see photos of it.
But when you’re in the center of it, when you’ve put so much effort into getting there, and when the emotion is so fresh and so palpable it’s an incredibly powerful experience.

Not quite 2500 walkers raised 6.5 million dollars for one weekend’s work.
Whatever the benefit this money may bring I hope I am so lucky as to be able to participate in this event for as long as I so desire. The power of the combined effort is worth more than any amount of money.

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