Two weeks ago, I participated in my first walk for a cause, the Gainesville area Walk to End Alzheimer’s (Oct. 21). I only raised $80, but it was a great experience and it gave me insight into how much coordination goes into events like these. Some observations:
- Walk to End Alzheimer’s events draw on some very powerful organzing tools, from online marketing tools to at-site features. I didn’t sign up for the march until the day before (!), but within a few hours, the organization had produced a video that I then shared on Facebook and Twitter. Surprisingly, two friends pitched in money, and so I had the pleasure of being able to walk in support of them and their moms, in addition to honoring my dad.
- Color is everything with these walk-for-a-cause events. I don’t know how the Alzheimer’s movement did it, but they were the first charity to claim royal purple as their color, and this enables them to quickly brand and unite disparate people and events. The official t-shirts were, of course, in this color, but experienced walkers went further with it, sporting pants, caps, and even tutus in this shade. Little kids and dogs were wearing it, as well; no matter who (or what species) you were, you “belonged,” thanks to the unifying effect of color branding.
- We were given the option of walking either .9 miles or 3 miles, and that flexibility meant that people of varying degrees of physical fitness could participate. Kudos to the organizers for offering those choices.
- More color branding offered further ways to express support for and experiences with Alzheimer’s. At a big booth next to the stage, you could pick up flower pinwheels in various shades. A purple flower stood for losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s; yellow meant you were currently a caregiver; orange was for supporters, and blue was for dementia sufferers. On stage, speakers would shout out, “Raise your flower if you’ve lost someone to Alzheimer’s,” and a sea of purple flowers rose above, spinning in the morning breeze. It was a simple and meaningful way to honor loved ones and to find commonality with other people.
So, what was my walk experience like? I chose the 3-mile trek, which took us through downtown Gainesville. Lots of UF sorority girls were participating, which initially surprised me until I realized the obvious: They have the time and energy to do this, while many caretakers can’t take a break to do a walkathon. Many of the young women were holding flowers in honor of grandparents, something that I learned from chatting with them along the walk route. Some had recruited their parents as participants as well.
The pace was brisker than I expected, and we finished in less than 1 hour. What looked like 100 volunteers were cheering for us as we crossed the finish line. I’ve never been cheered like that before in any athletic event I’ve participated in (there haven’t been many, you understand), but I have to admit that it felt nice to cos-play Usain Bolt for a brief moment.