Chelsea’s Warriors Walk Atlanta in Pink Tutus and Compression Socks

 

by Heather James

Last Saturday, four of us from the Cook & James team started walking at 7 a.m. and didn’t finish until 9 hours, 19 minutes and 32 seconds later when we had conquered 20 miles of the “It’s the Journey” route.

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Our effort was all in honor of Chelsea Clark Lanier, a very special colleague who we lost early in 2018, just before her 31st birthday. She was a member of the C & J family for two years when, at age 29, she received the devastating diagnosis of stage four breast cancer which had progressed to her liver, bones and lymphatic system. For the next 18 months she valiantly fought this catastrophic disease and, while her battle was a personal one, to us she always presented a brave face and a positive outlook about her future.  Chelsea is our inspiration to be as strong, positive, gracious and dignified every day as she was throughout her darkest days.

Each fall, It's the Journey, Inc. hosts the two-day Georgia Walk for Breast Cancer. Kara, Chuck, Angel and I were very proud to march 20 miles through Atlanta and do our small part to contribute to the nearly $1.1 million the organization has raised over the past 16 years -- $1,038,602 to be precise. The two-day walk is a local 501c3, dedicated to providing desperately-needed funding for breast cancer screening, research, early detection, diagnosis, and support services in Georgia. I encourage you to join the effort and make a donation now, which you can do through the end of October.  

 

During our nine plus hours walking together last Saturday, we danced, sang, told stories and laughed until we cried (you can blame some of that on delirium). But we kept Chelsea’s memory top of mind during our 47,283 steps together.

 

Angel (our resident saint) has done many of these walks and Chuck did way more miles when he took five months off to hike the Appalachian Trail. But for me and Kara, this was our first attempt at 20 miles in one day and we had no idea how grueling it would be! It was 86 degrees with what felt like 100% humidity and walking on the pavement beat up our bones and joints. I've done plenty of 5Ks and 10Ks but have never gone 20 miles – however, if you know anything about C&J you might suspect we had a lot of fun. And you’d be right. You might also realize that come hell or high water we will get it done.

 

People blew their horns, cheered us on from their cars, and gave compliments galore about our breast cancer hot pink and purple tutu's and compression socks.

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We were peppy and walking fast in the relative cool of the first five miles and we enjoyed an up-close tour of some absolutely stunning Atlanta neighborhoods, parks and homes – many of which we’ve seen from the inside during the last 13 years of our At-Home closings. Let me tell you, on foot it’s a totally different perspective. But by mile five, we were getting some aches and pains, no small concern being fully aware we had 15 more miles to go.

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By the lunch stop at mile 10, our knees and hips were really starting to talk to us so Kara and I got stretched out by the amazing physical therapist volunteers.

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After lunch we got to walk a beautiful stretch of the Beltline which was definitely the highlight of the day. The sun was getting really hot so we especially appreciated the shade and peaceful scenery. Before mile 15 Kara and I were pretty much hobbling around and I was definitely dragging my right leg a bit. Our steps were becoming increasingly dreaded…who knew this city had so many hills!?

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But we were drinking water, keeping up the ibuprofen and even eating the disgusting goo Chuck, ever talkative and happy, got us to ingest (thankfully) for an extra boost of energy.  We kept our spirits high. The volunteers along the way were amazingly supportive and we were always quite relieved to reach another breast stop. (Yes, they were actually called breast stops!) On the route, music and cheerleading groups motivated us to keep going, but I’ll totally admit the drinks, snacks, porta-potties and medical tents for our blisters were quite the welcome sight at those breast stops – heck, we even got ice cream sandwiches one time!

 

Around mile 17 we were moving pretty slowly (except for Angel, who apparently walks faster when she's in pain) but our laughter was at an all-time high…again: were we delirious? Hallucinating? For me, I think the last half mile was the hardest to conquer. Imagine seeing the finish line in the distance but it doesn't feel close enough at all to achieve. That’s when you have to dig deep and, I will tell you, I was channeling Chelsea and her courageous battle that got me through those 20 miles, especially at the end.

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After we finished, cleaned up and found band-aids, icy hot and more ibuprofen, there was a celebratory dinner. We were joined by Mary Jackson, Courey Wong, Stephanie Ray and Phil DaCosta from our amazing C & J team, who had beautifully decorated our table (and themselves) in our festive Grease theme, complete with loads of pink.

The walk was a challenging and fulfilling experience and all of us here at C & J thank you for joining us in honoring our beloved Chelsea by making a contribution to this worthy organization. Everyone I know as been affected by breast cancer in some way and so many of our loved ones have been lost along the way - we really need to find a cure!

 
Heather James