Advocacy


Day 243
What a night! It was hot and muggy, exhilarating and emotional. New York Times writer / blogger / survivor Dana Jennings’ inspiring opening remarks whooshed us right into a  a survivor’s lap around the track at Brookdale Park at 7:15 last night which for many — myself included —  was the most meaningful part of the first Montclair Relay 4 Life evening.

Survivors walked hand-in-hand with loved ones of all ages; a team of young people carried the official Relay banner , while our strong walkers Nanci, Alex, Elaine, Toni, and Donna carried the snap-looking MyBigWalk banner that was designed and painted by Lori Loehbelson.

Toni saw a small girl checking in as a survivor receive a pair of purple wings to affix on her tiny shoulders; Dana spoke about being a “sage warriors,” who “will not let cancer define us.” The survivor walk was led by a cadre of young people including a young man with huge black plugs in each ear and a funky purple bandana on his head, and after the first lap Toni — who is in her sixth cancer-free year — grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the track with her.

As we looped the stadium fellow relayers, supporters, friends and family, stood and clapped. For fifteen minutes. I’m sure Elaine, who has successfully completed  treatment for advanced breast cancer and is gearing up for her second big trip to Europe this year, spoke for many when she said the the survivor lap was “very surreal, emotional and moving.”

The night went very fast after the opening ceremonies. Everyone on our team was in great spirits and absolutely diligent about staying on the track for their hour and more. We had three tents, deluxe air mattresses, lanterns, a beautiful white canopy courtesy of Myla’s mom — an artist who lost the battle last July and for whom Myla’s entire family came out to honor —  not to mention food galore, beautifully coordinated by Martha.

As darkness fell, the luminarias that marked our path were illuminated, and I was able to find the many candles pledged by HarperCollins folks in memory of  c0worker and rock drummer Dave Campbell. My parents, Myla’s mom, Leslie’s husband, and many others were memorialized along the way.

Before I knew it it was time for my midnight lap with Toni, followed by my own solo lap. I say solo lap, but I was never alone. Frank, who’d already walked the 9-10 lap with David, walked with me. Soon David and Ellen were out there with us, too. It was a beautiful night of camraderie, remebrance, and celebration.

I crashed at 4 in the morning, just as Leslie was going out to do her lap. When I woke, Martha and Nanci had returned with coffee, and Alex, Frank, Myla, Lori, and Martha were busy taking down the banner and tents.

In the spirit of the evening, Elaine came to collect her air mattresses at 5:30 but didn’t have the heart to wake me, and so I ‘slept in’ until 6. Thank you, Elaine! Thank you Lori, Nanci, Alex, Leslie, Toni, Myla, Ellen, David, Frank, Martha, and Jenny, too.

The relay raised $110,000 for cancer research. With $13,153 on our ledger by 4 am, MyBigWalk was by far the biggest fund-raiser for this year’s walk (see Baristanet piece). Best of all, the night was everything we’d hoped for, and more.

Day 240

I’m busy preparing for the American Cancer Society’s 12-hour overnight Relay for Life this Friday in Montclair. At this point, to be honest, the work is mostly sitting back and letting my wonderful team of 13 walkers paint our team banner and plan what to bring and what we’ll eat.

A special thanks to all MyBigWalkers who sent donations to the Relay.  You’ll be with us in spirit as we walk through the night.

Watch for pieces about each of my team walkers in the days ahead. Some are survivors, some are dedicated caregivers who are honoring loved ones, and others are remembering those who’ve lost the battle but live on in our hearts. Our reasons are complex and personal but they’re bringing us together, and community makes us stronger. That’s why we’ll be there.

Here’s a great story about the event posted yesterday on my favorite local news spot, Baristanet:

Countdown to Montclair’s Relay for Life

Montclair will host its first-ever Relay for Life on Friday, June 4, at Brookdale Park, thanks to the event’s chair, Erica Lowenthal, who took part in the Hoboken relay last year in memory of her late dad, Dr Hank Lowenthal, and decided to bring the event home.

Forty teams will be participating, and more than $73,000 has already been raised. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life – the biggest private funder of cancer research in the US.

The Relay celebrates the lives of those who have battled cancer and won, lost, or are still fighting back. Because cancer never relents, it’s an overnight event, beginning June 4 at 7:00pm and ending up to 24 hours later.

Each team has a reason, often a moving and personal one, for participating.

The leading fundraising team of My Big Walk, which has raised more than $8,500 so far, says on their page that they are “dedicated to cancer survivors Elaine Rapaport, Alex Nolan, Nanci Naegeli, Toni Martin, and Jenny Kydd.”

“Our friends have met and battled cancer. The women on our team are athletes, warriors, and ferocious fighters. We’re walking to keep the flame of the fight alive, and to light the dark night for those who are engaged in battle. Most of all, we’re walking for hope and unity.”

The entire community appears to be involved, including the Temptations of St Luke’s Church, Temple Ner Tamid, and schools such as Bradford, Hillside, Glenfield, Nishuane, MKA and Montclair High School.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life provides emotional, screening and nutritional support and advice on healthy living. It funds research towards cures for cancer – 44 researchers supported by the ACS have gone on to win the Nobel Prize – and fights back, too. The society helped bring about the smoke-free law and assists low-income, uninsured or underinsured women with treatment or screening tests.

The event will be moving, and fun, too, with plenty of entertainment organized.

If you’d like to participate, it’s not too late!

Phyllis Lowenthal, who heads the team, The Page Turners, is in charge of the survivors’ dinner and walk that begins in the evening of June 4, and may be emailed here.

Sign up here, or just help towards finding a cure by making a contribution, here.

Day 225

More than a thousand people took part in the annual Tour de Montclair  this Sunday in my town. The community bike ride is a fundraiser for the nonprofit group Bike&Walk Montclair, which advocates for safe streets, pathways, and biking and walking accessibility  in Montclair and its surrounding towns and parks.

2010 Tour de Montclair

The tour is a great opportunity for families and friends to cycle or walk through town, enjoying our own backyards as summer approaches.

I caught up with the Kansagra family loading up their bikes at the end of their 8-mile ride through town.  Payal Maniar and her husband, Nilesh Kansagra (first and sixth from the left) who just moved to town in March, were joined by a niece and nephew who came out from Princeton for the day with their parents.

Nine-year-old Rohan said the ride was “great,” and his sister, seven-year-old Raina, thought it was “amazing.”  The weather was lovely, and I really love the color of those t-shirts, too!

Day 72

My favorite segment of what I think of as the “professional walking industry” are the complete streets advocates.

Think SHARE THE ROAD and you know what they’re trying to do: bikes, pedestrians, cars, joggers, dog walkers and more, all getting along.  Making the streets safer, the city more amenable, the streetscape more desirable, and the community more livable.

Imagine: no more crossing your fingers when you rush through a busy intersection. No more cyclists waving angry fists at joggers who veer in front of them while trying to avoid a car.

Some of this can be done with little more than painted paths and Share the Road signs. Other cities need to repave, expand, and re-design their town centers, bikepaths, and sidewalks.

The Alliance for Biking & Walking in Washington D.C. advocates and funds livable streets programs across the country, and this season awarded grants to grassroots organizations in Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Seattle, and Central Connecticut.

“Complete streets policies require that street design consider the safety and needs of all potential users including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit and the disabled. Many Alliance organizations have undertaken complete streets campaigns and won local policies, and others are currently working to win complete streets in their communities. Find model complete streets policies, complete streets campaigns, and checklists for ensuring complete streets policies are effectively implemented.” – from the Alliance for Biking and Walking website.

As a walker, I’d like to become more involved in this simple, green movement, and I’m looking forward to 2010 when my local BikeWalkMontclair group unveils their new website and, incorporating pedestrians and pedestrian issues into their mission statement and their outreach events. Cyclists are already advocating for bike paths. Walkers should find out more, and join the movement. And yes, that pun was intended!

Day 24

bronx

It ain’t exactly a newsflash that people who walk are healthier.

But it’s worth noting that people who live in places that promote walking  and offer access to healthy foods are less likely to develop diabetes.

This, according to Drexel U public health research study, which appears in a new issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Even in the Bronx?

Yup — even in the Bronx.fugeddaboudit

So fugeddaboudit if you’re tryin’ to avoid gettin’ healthy. Just livin’ and walkin’ in the city can do it.  And as we saw in last week’s Broadway Project post, the NYC Department of Transportation is doing what it can to make walking safer and more enjoyable in the 5 boroughs.

Let’s support complete cities and safe streets initiatives. Because we’re all pedestrians — if we know what’s good for us.

Ya know what I’m sayin’?

Day 21

orange umbrellaMy mother-in-law — a born and bred New Yorker — was the first to tell me about the orange chairs and umbrellas in the middle of Broadway.  Now that I’ve seen it for myself, I understand why the pedestrian mall at Duffy Square made her so happy.

No matter what I think of Mayor Bloomberg’s little stab at installing himself as emperor of New York, it’s impossible not to marvel at what his Department of Transportation has done to transform the city streets with a little green paint, some potted plants, and a beautiful vision for the Broadway Project.

Since Broadway is one of the only remaining original Native American paths on Manhattan island, it seems fitting that the DOT’s urban engineers would designate this boulevard as a safe streets multi-use project linking four parks — from Columbus Circle at 59th Street, to Madison Park at 23rd and the Flatiron Building — with green bike paths.

Some orange and yellow umbrellas, some silver tables and chairs, some good old muscle power and voila — where there was once nothing but traffic and mayhem, we now have a series of four parks linked by a 1.5 mile bike path with lots of room for pedestrians. 

Even in last week’s cold rain, the market merchants at Madison Park were out in their booths with an array of colorful products and foods. If it’s sunny this week, you should stop by and check it out for yourself.   Hey — maybe my mother-in-law will meet you there. Rosemarie’s always up for an adventure!

Day 8

hooker barbie 2C’mon now, be serious!  I’m talking about professional people — a lucky and surprising number of them — who make their living studying walking, quantifying walking, advocating for it, and working to make walking safer for all pedestrians and especially for children and the elderly.  The buzzword is “livable streets.”

I met some of these fabulously cheerful people at the tenth international Walk21 NYC conference in Washington Square yesterday. Organized by the NYC Dept of Transportation, the conference has attracted hundreds of attendees from 30 countries around the world.

Felipe Leal, Minister of Urban Development and Housing for Mexico City, was quite excited to share his city’s plans for a “Tequila and Mezcal Museum” designed to attract daytime visitors to a public square popular with evening revelers.

Maureen Smith, a public health nurse from Guelph, Canada, undertook her first trip to  New York to learn more about promoting safe walking to and from school, an international campaign she’s been spearheading back home for eight years. 

Robert Laurie, the Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator for the state of Alaska — what he called “the walkingest state in the nation” — came to learn how other urban areas are managing the congestion that also plagues some cities in Gov. Sarah Palin’s our 49th state.

But the star of this year’s conference surely must be New York City herself,  undergoing a streets renaissance highlighted in a series of daily 1.5 hour Walkshops along new pedestrian/cycling pathways like the Broadway Project, the High Line in Chelsea, and the Hudson River Park and Greenway walk , which I joined on the very windy shores of the Hudson.  My walk was led by Connie Fishman, President of the Hudson River Park Trust, and a proud enthusiast for this fabulous 5-mile path and greenway along the river.  

The walkers I met are a truly friendly, dedicated bunch of professionals.   If I wasn’t already convinced that daily walking makes for a calmer, more optimistic outlook on life, the conference convinced me.

I suppose I could have it backwards — it could be that happy people are attracted to walking and walking advocacy. But it still means that when we’re walking, we’re in good company. And that’s enough proof for me.

Come back next week to read about my 3 mile walk on the new Broadway Project pedestrian/bike paths installed along one of the only remaining Native American trail roads on Manhattan Island.

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