October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! I thought this would be a great time to post this interview with my friend Donna Narvaez, who just completed her eleventh consecutive annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Come on in friends and hear about her incredible journey! - Ro.
Ro: Avon Walk for Breast Cancer has been a passion of yours as long as I have known you. What inspired you to participate in your first Avon Walk?
Donna: I was inspired to participate after seeing family, friends and neighbors that I grew up with, who had either lost their lives, or were survivors of breast cancer. The turning point was when I was approached by a friend, who asked if I would be interested in sponsoring her for a walk. When she told me she had to raise $1,800.00 in order to participate, I thought I could raise the money! The 60 mile walk was more challenging than raising the money.
Ro: What was the first year that you participated in the Avon Walk, and how did that feel?
Donna: My first event was in September 1999. We walked 60 miles from Santa Barbara to Zuma Beach. It was raining but no one seemed to mind. It was an amazing, uplifting experience!
Ro: How many Avon Walks have you walked? Were they consecutive?
Donna: I have walked consecutively from 1999 to the present, 2010 being my 11th walk.
Ro: That’s incredible. What inspires you to keep on walking the Avon Walk year after year?
Donna: The men and women that I meet at the walks. They are amazing and are very inspirational. Also, family and friends who fight each day to stay alive while waiting for a cure. That is what truly inspires me.
Ro: How many miles is the Avon Walk and how many miles have you walked in total over the years?
Donna: During the years 1999 through 2002 the walk was 60 miles, lasting 3 days. During the years 2003 through 2010 the walk was 40 miles, lasting 2 days. During the 1999 through 2002 Avon Walks I walked a combined total of 248 miles. During the 2003 through 2010 Avon Walks I walked a total of 280 miles. Over the past 11 years I have walked over 20,000 miles simply training for this event.
Ro: How much money have you raised personally through your participation?
Donna: Personally I have raised over $30,000.00. I also participated in a team effort of 52 walkers where we raised $110,000.00.
Ro: That’s awesome! How does one become involved in the Avon Walk? Are there any special requirements?
Donna: The only requirement is to raise $1,800.00. The physical challenges vary. Avon has support vehicles - sweep vehicles - and you may walk 1 mile, 10 miles or 40 miles. This is NOT a race. There are no finisher medals at the end of the journey. Knowing that you have made a difference, the accomplishment of raising the funds, and raising awareness are the rewards.
Ro: Do you train year round for the Avon Walk?
Donna: The Avon walk is in September. Typically I start training in March, and train up until the walk.
Ro: How do you train, particularly in the last few weeks prior to the walk, after all you are a businesswoman – an owner of Westlake Village Florist - as well! Describe your daily schedule.
Donna: Training is a challenge, but we all make time for the things that are important to us in life. It’s a matter of balance. When I get down to serious training I try to walk from 8 to 10 miles, two days a week before work – which requires getting up at 5:00 a.m. I also try to go to the gym a couple of days a week for cross training, light weights and cardio, which are all very helpful towards making the 40 mile walk. Some may think that 40 miles isn’t all that far, but to give you an example, if I walked from my home in Agoura Hills to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that would be about 38 miles.
Ro: It is my understanding that you most recently participated in the Los Angeles area Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Santa Barbara California, on September 12, 2010. Fergie, six-time Grammy Award winner and Avon spokesperson, was a special guest. Did you get to meet her personally? Hear her speak? How did it feel to have her there?
Donna: I and thousands of others had the pleasure of hearing Fergie speak. She was dynamic, inspiring and her message heart-felt as both her Mom and Dad have cancer and are survivors. That made it all the more meaningful.
Ro: That particular Avon Walk raised more than $6.4 million to advance access to care and breast cancer research, and attracted more than 2,800 participants from 40 states and Canada, including 322 breast cancer survivors. You must have met some very amazing people! Tell me a little bit about some of the extraordinary people that you met.
Donna: I met and had the pleasure of walking with several survivors. One young woman who had just had a double mastectomy two days prior to the walk was making the journey. She was just one of hundreds of survivors that participated in the 2010 walk. These are my heroes!
Ro: What is your fondest Avon Walk memory of all time?
Donna: The 2001 walk from Santa Barbara to Zuma Beach. I walked down Pacific Coast Highway with thousands of people in pink shirts. I came upon a young woman - 20 years old, who appeared to be laboring with blisters. I asked if she was okay. Her reply “I’m just a little tired”. Now mind you were are on our last 2 miles of a 60 mile walk. All the while I was saying to myself, gee I’m twice her age, surely she can tough it out. When I asked her to sit with me on a rock next to the ocean, she thanked me for not leaving her behind. We sat only a couple of minutes before she pulled up her pant leg and to my surprise she was an amputee! It was a very humbling moment. No longer would I complain about being tired, blisters or wishing that the walk was over. We crossed the finish line together and I couldn’t have been more proud of anyone. I didn’t ask how she had lost her leg, it didn’t and doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she didn’t sit back and feel sorry for herself.
Ro: That would be a very memorable experience for sure, wow! I remember you being chosen to carry the Olympic torch and how excited all of your family and friends were, including me. What a tremendous honor! Tell me about how that happened, and how it felt to be a part of it.
Donna: In 2001, a co-worker of mine, Paula Patch, nominated me for a contest sponsored by CocaCola.com and Chevy.com asking “Who inspires you and why?” This was a 50 word or less essay contest. When I received an e-mail from Chevy I thought it was a joke and almost deleted it. The e-mail said that I had been nominated and that I would be hearing from the Olympic Committee within a few weeks, if I had been chosen to carry the Olympic torch. There were over 230,000 entries and only 500 world wide torch carriers were selected. I walked, carrying the torch through Paso Robles, California on the morning of January 17, 2002 in 46 degree weather - but I never felt cold. The reception of the thousands of people lining the streets, waiving American flags and yelling USA . . . USA . . . USA . . . brought both tears and so much pride to me that I will never forget that amazing experience. Because this was after 911, it meant more to me, and our country. In the past ten years I have shared my experience with local schools, churches and youth groups. I have made public appearances with my torch, of which only 3,700 torches were made for the torch carriers. This was one of the biggest highlights of my life as well as for my family and friends who inspired me.
Ro: Rousing Rowena is about living a meaningful and happy life. I interview people who have turned their ordinary lives into extraordinary lives. Donna, you never fail to amaze me with the extent of your loving, caring and giving of yourself and I consider you to be beyond extraordinary! Is there anything that you would like to express to my readers in closing?
Donna: The Olympic torch theme for the winter games in 2002 was “light the fire within”. This has become a favorite saying of mine. We each are very special in our own way. We can make a difference. Get up, get off the couch (if you are able) and make a difference. It doesn’t matter how far, how fast or how you make the journey, just make it! Light the fire within YOU!
Ro: Thank you Donna, from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experiences with me and my readers. You always have been and still are, an inspiration to me!
Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is one of the largest fund raising programs in the country. From 2003 through 2009, the Avon Walks have raised more than $328 million – funds that are directly saving lives. The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer also raises extraordinary awareness as participants spend an entire weekend walking 39 miles through cities and towns around the country. In 2009 alone, thousands of donors supported nearly 21,000 Walkers and Crew raising more than $52 million in the national 9-event series! Click here for more information about the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer..
Donna’s business Westlake Village Florist is a shop fundraiser for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Click here for more info about Westlake Village Florist .