You may have seen social media posts of people walking with colorful flower pinwheels spinning in the breeze. Have you ever stopped to determine what this walk is all about?
It’s simple. Every 65 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In California, where I live, it’s the second leading cause of death in seniors. From 2000 to 2018, death from heart disease has decreased by almost 8%, while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 146%.
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. But it’s more than that. It is a joyful celebration where caregivers, people living with the disease, and care professionals come together.
Held in the fall, over 600 communities have walked. I participated in my first walk in October 2019. Initially, I was supposed to be part of a team, but we never got connected. Undeterred, I went on my own.
Many people bring their dogs, but I have three Golden Retrievers and couldn’t leave any of them home. I knew I couldn’t handle all three in a crowded environment, so I walked by myself.
About the Walk
Except, I wasn’t by myself. Everyone, there is participating for the same reason. And those colorful flowers? They represent who you are in this fight. They’re officially called The Promise Garden. Walk participants are encouraged to write personal messages on their flowers to show their dedication further.
In 2019 I carried a yellow flower signifying that I am caring for a loved one. That loved one was my Mom. In 2020 (when I plan to have my team), I will be carrying a purple flower, indicating that I have lost someone to Alzheimer’s.
An orange flower represents that you support the cause and the Alzheimer’s Association's vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease. It is their goal to find the first survivor of the disease by 2025. We have to hurry up.
A blue flower indicates that you are living with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Many people with the disease participate in the walk. They find it uplifting to know that thousands of people are raising money to help end the nightmare of Alzheimer’s.
So, while you’re walking, you already know quite a bit about the people who are walking with you. It’s easy to strike up a conversation. Many teams wear costumes or customized t-shirts. Many have their kids and dogs. It’s pretty much a party atmosphere. It’s a joyful event, and you are only alone if you work at it being alone.
My First Walk
What was my first walk like; let me see if I can paint you a picture.
My walk (the one in my county) outgrew its’ original space at a large city park. My Alzheimer’s Association chapter moved to a large office campus a couple of towns over. Many walkers weren’t sure that the new walk location would be as beautiful. An office complex doesn’t sound as nice as a park. Because this was my first time, I didn’t have anything to compare to, but I knew many of the reasons they moved.
To say they outgrew the park is an understatement. The biggest problem was the parking. There wasn’t enough. Shuttling walkers from nearby shopping centers wasn’t ideal. At the new location, parking was plentiful.
Additionally, the park paths weren’t wide enough for the crowd of Alzheimer’s walkers, and some of them weren’t flat. It’s a beautiful rolling hill (mounds?) park, but it’s not great if you’re in a wheelchair or have other walking issues. The office complex paths were flat.
Since I never heard from the team coordinator, I was to join; I only had the necessary information on the walk details. I knew what time it started and where it was to be held. Beyond that, I was in the dark.
… And We’re Off!
I arrived about an hour before the walk officially kicked off. That gave me time to network with all the companies that sponsored booths. There were also speakers and music, lots of ways to spend that hour. I had to pick up my official Walk to End Alzheimer’s 2019 t-shirt too.
The walk kicks off like a slow-moving marathon. Hundreds of people, flowers held aloft, laughing and chatting head off on either a 1 mile or 3-mile walk. The office complex we were at is beautiful. So beautiful that many of the walkers stopped to take nature photos. I confess I was one of those walker-photographer folks. There were many selfies and group photos created using the lake as a background. We even had trees with fall color, which you have to look for here in Northern California.
Because it’s an easy walk, the crowd stays pretty tightly together. Smaller groups chat with bigger groups. I decided to move between groups and speak to as many people as possible. Naturally, I found it most comfortable to start a conversation with the walkers who brought their dogs.
Everyone has a similar yet unique story. Some are caring for a spouse. Others, like myself, are caring for a parent. Quite surprising to me was the number of walkers caring for a grandparent.
The majority of walkers carry a yellow or purple flower, so you know right away how to ask about someone for whom they’re caring.
Easy Enough for Everyone
It’s a pretty simple affair in comparison to race marathons or charity bike rides. All the money raised goes towards funding research into finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, so there’s no fancy BBQ or entertainment at the end. In 2020 I will have to team Fading Memories, and yes, we’ll bring the dogs. Afterward, we can picnic along the walk route or head over to a restaurant.
“But, you’ve neglected to talk about the fundraising part of the walk!”
As I mentioned, I was supposed to be part of another team but never connected with their coordinator. I would have probably skipped going, but I had told many people I was attending. I even did a podcast episode on “Why We Walk,” so it wouldn’t be easy to get out of attending.
So, about a week and a half before the walk, I thought I’d better start raising some money. I didn’t want to write a check. Part of asking for donations is also furthering awareness of the disease.
It wasn’t hard to raise $350. I thought that was pretty good for the first time, a single walker. Team Fading Memories will do a lot better!
I encourage you to join your local walk. Enjoy a beautiful fall morning walk with hundreds of other like-minded people. Raise money for a significant cause and know that you’ve done something good for yourself and many, many others.