GILBERT, Ariz. -- Thousands of people, most of them women, have embarked on a three-day adventure during which they will cover 60 miles -- on foot -- and experience the gamut of emotions. There will be laughter; there will be tears; there will be hugs, lots of them; there will be stories told and friendships made. The Susan G. Komen 3-Day has come to Arizona, and it's painting the Valley metro area pink.
3TV's Javier Soto was at Crossroads Park in Gilbert, where the energy was palpable as the poignant re-dawn opening ceremony sent the pink-clad walkers on their way. With the help of a dedicated crew of volunteers, thousands of walkers, including some passionate men who aren't afraid to rock the pink for the women they love, will cover 20 miles today, another 20 miles tomorrow and the final 20-mile leg on Sunday.
Walkers and crew, united in their desire find a cure for breast cancer, will camp out in a park Friday and Saturday nights. Their tents, naturally, are pink and many will be decorated in various themes.
For women like Lisa Milburn, a three-year survivor of breast cancer, the 3-Day is many things that can be summed up in three words.
"Research, hope, survival," Milburn said. This is her third year walking. "This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and the walk just makes it all worth it -- raising the money and fighting." Fired up before setting off on her 60-mile journey, Mill burn had three simple but powerful words for women who are fighting breast cancer. "Never give up."
Every 3-Day walker and crew member is special, but this year there's an extra special participant standing in for a woman who had intended to take part in all 14 2012 events -- until her cancer worsened.
Peanut Butta the pink-haired teddy bear is "walking" on behalf of a woman named Amy, who lives in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the power of social media, the bear has traveled all over the country, staying with complete strangers. (Check out her Facebook page -- yes, she has one -- for photos and updates from his unique bear's eye view.)
Janna Florie of Team Walking On is Peanut Butta's guardian for the Arizona walk.
"It's important," Florie said. "It's important to Amy. It's something to give her some hope while she's going through her treatments. It gives hope to a lot of the other walkers. … It rallies everyone together."
Such togetherness is hallmark of the 3-Day. Since its inception, the event has spawned an enthusiastic community.
"The first year that we walked [nine years ago ], we kept saying, 'Wow! Everybody is so nice! Everybody is so wonderful and generous and kind,' said veteran walker Staci Pies of Team Sweetie Pies. "And then it sort of occurred to us afterwards that of course. those are the types of people who participate in this event. They support each other and give each other love and encouragement. It's wonderful. We really enjoy it."
The 3-Day has two main goals -- to raise awareness about breast cancer and to raise money for research and programs.
Each walker has to raise a minimum of $2,300 to take part in the event.
"Seventy-five percent of the net proceeds raised by the 3-Day fund national research and large public health outreach programs," reads the3Day.org. "The remaining 25 percent funds local community and Affiliate outreach programs. Virtually major advance in the fight against breast cancer in the last 30 years has been impacted by a Susan G. Komen for the Cure® grant."
The Arizona 3-Day ends late Sunday afternoon at Scottsdale Stadium.
This weekend's Arizona 3-Day walk is the second to last in a series of 14 events across the country. The 3-Day season kicked off in July in Boston and wraps up next weekend in San Diego.
Next year's Arizona Susan G. Komen 3-Day is Nov. 8-10. Registration is open now.
If you'd like to cheer on this year's walkers, there are two official cheering stations along each day's route.
Downtown Chandler Cheering Station - Friday, 9:15 a.m.-11 a.m.
Arizona Avenue between Boston and Buffalo streets
Safeway parking lot Cheering Station -- Friday, noon-4 p.m.
Southwest corner of Elliot Road and McClintock Drive
Ahwatukee Palms Shopping Center Cheering Station -- Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Southeast corner of Warner Road and 48th Street
New Life Church Cheering Station -- Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
11832 S. Warner-Elliot Loop
Downtown Tempe Cheering Station --Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Mill Avenue between Fifth and Third streets
Fifth Avenue Shops Cheering Station -- Sunday, 11:45 a.m.-3 p.m.
Fifth Avenue between Indian School Road and Craftsman Court
Closing Ceremony -- Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
Scottsdale Stadium, 7409 E. Osborn Road
3-Day Opening Ceremony video from 3TV viewer Karen Speaker-Nunley of Team WISH Arizona
Writer's note: I walked in 2010, and it's the hardest -- and most rewarding -- thing I've ever done.