When Erin Kowalski showed up to work in socks and sandals June 6, she raised a few eyebrows.
Kowalski's fashion statement seemed a little strange to coworkers at the school where she teaches—but the stares were worth it as Kowalski winced her way through a day walking on blisters.
After 39.2 miles in two days, what's eight more hours of a workday? Kowalski earned her blisters during her 10th year walking the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer June 4–5. Kowalski's team Save the Boobies contributed $28,000 to the city's total $6.1 million.
"They say, 'Every blister saves a sister,'" Kowalski told Patch. "It's minimal to what someone else is going through."
Kowalski and her sister Katy Flynn along with their mother Debbie Flynn, all Oak Forest residents, enlisted the support of friends and family for the two-day walk in extreme temps over the weekend. On June 4, they arrived at Soldier Field at 5:30 a.m., trekked 26 miles through Chicago, pitched a pink tent, showered in a truck, woke up on Sunday and did it all again—but "only" walked 13 miles.
For most, it's a long weekend that they might never try again. For this family, it's a given that next year, they'll hit the pavement again.
"We have lost numerous people to different cancers," Kowalski said. "I have four girls, and I'm hoping they never have to go through it."
The first year Kowalski participated with her mother Debbie, it was a three-day walk.
"My mom and I finished, cried and said we'd never do it again," she said, laughing.
But the experience kept drawing her back in.
"It's such a life-changing experience," agreed her sister Katy.
This was Flynn's third year walking, but from a young age, she watched from the sidelines, cheering on her family members with her father.
"I think it's just cool, everybody has signs out, everybody's out cheering us on, it keeps you going," Flynn said.
The event unites thousands of supporters from Chicagoland. Throughout the two days, pink sashes are handed out every three seconds—denoting another person diagnosed with breast cancer, or one who has lost their battle. During the closing ceremony, checks are donated directly to organizations within Chicago, "so you know it's staying in Chicago," Kowalski said.
For her, the most moving part is watching the 200 survivors make their way through the walk.
"It's so powerful to see the survivors who come back ever year," she said.
Kowalski and Flynn intend to keep the walk alive in the family. Kowalski first became involved after she lost two aunts to cancer—one to breast cancer, one to lung cancer.
"It seems like a given that my daughters will walk," she said. "I think it teaches my children something to believe in, something to be involved in. They've known from a young age.
"It's something we have always felt passionate about. They grew up knowing nothing else."