The Shoe Didn’t Fit, But She Still Wore It

Michelle’s feet swelled overnight on the first day of the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk. In the morning she could barely fit into her second pair of shoes, New Balance cross trainers. If only she had thought to bring extra shoes to wear to the showers for some relief. She walked another 20 miles that day with her toes squeezed together in those too-tight shoes. A long toenail cut into another toe. And somewhere along the route through the city streets of Minneapolis, blood seeped through the mesh and covered the top of her shoes.

Years earlier Michelle made a goal for herself in a women’s health class at college. The instructor asked each student to set a 3-month goal, a 1-year goal, and a 5-year goal. At the same time, she sought to know her mother who had died from breast cancer when Michelle was 10 and learn more about herself in the process.

She kept asking herself, “My mom died so long ago. Why does it still affect me now?” Her answer, “Because she had been gone so long, I needed to find her. In finding her, I was finding myself.”

Her 3-month goal was to train for and run in the 5k Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in her community. “I wanted to make a connection with this disease that took her life and do something physically constructive,” she said. She also ran the 5k the next year and then discovered the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk.

Her mom became sick at a young age and died at 36. Michelle was approaching that age, herself, when she committed to participate in the 3-Day. Even though she struggled to raise the $2000 to participate and find someone to walk with her, she persevered—in the fund raising and in her heartfelt desire to connect with her mom.

Michelle worried she wouldn’t have the right equipment. She had a good pair of New Balance shoes that fit comfortably. But she needed two pairs. At a local department store, she bought a second pair—cross-training shoes by Rykä. In hindsight, she wished she had purchased shoes a ½ size bigger than she needed.

The organizers made sure the walk was as comfortable as possible, providing encouragement and nourishment at stations along the way and in the tent camps at night. The food satisfied. And the volunteers served it with humor and positive comments that kept her going. Survivors shared their stories to motivate walkers.

The walk itself was not the challenge. The challenge came for Michelle in walking through the pain in her feet, aggravated by her shoes. Organizers had encouraged walkers to bring Vaseline, apparently to use between their toes. Michelle thought her Chapstick was what she needed, and she developed blisters underneath her toenails. “My feet hurt so bad. If I stopped, I wondered if I would be able to start again.”

Michelle put on her Rykä shoes on the third morning of the walk. They widened at the top around the toes, giving her the extra space she needed to complete the final day of the 60-mile walk. Having never found someone to join her in the walk, she walked on her own. She met interesting women along the way. Some with a connection to places she had lived. Others with stories of their own. All there for the same cause.

“It’s a strange thing; that disease had already taken her life,” Michelle said about her mom. “In walking, I wasn’t going to fund medicine to help her get better. But I felt a physical need to work some of that emotion out, to let out some of those hard and sad feelings.”

The last 20 miles wound through the old avenues of St. Paul, past neighborhoods of large, beautiful older homes and through parks with ponds or lakes. She completed her 3-Day 60-mile walk at the Minnesota State Capital building. “Physically, I could have kept walking, if my feet would have allowed it.”

Even at the end, the pain continued. Michelle’s feet burned and tingled. All the participants waited for every last person to finish walking. Waiting for the others prolonged it. She later lost several toenails, which she even considered selling on eBay to raise more money to benefit breast cancer research.

Healing came. The walk was a stepping stone to later experiences when she felt her mom close. “I felt that I was growing more whole as a person, which is how I see her.”

She still owns and wears the Rykä shoes that she wore to the finish line, even though she has worn a hole through the bottom. “If I could ever find another pair of shoes like those ones, I’d buy a bunch of them.”

This post is an entry in the Scribbit May Write-Away Contest.


  1. Michelle at Scribbit
    May 9, 2008

    This angle on the topic is so good–I so admire that kind of dedication. SHoes and healing–a great combination.

  2. Lei
    May 20, 2008

    What a lovely story, TJ! great entry!

  3. Daisy
    May 22, 2008

    Beautiful story. My close friend trained for and walked the Avon Breast Cancer Walk. She went through mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and reconstructive surgery, and now walks to raise money so her daughter will not have to suffer as she did.

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