Just a year ago, Patti Williamson wouldn't have dreamed of getting up at dawn to start a 60-mile walk, but now she's embarking on one of the most exciting and frightening adventures of her life.
Williamson, a Corte Madera business owner, is donning her pink outfit and joining her "Are We There Yet?" teammates for the start of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk at The Village shopping center Friday at 7 a.m.
"I'm really scared. But, I have 1,000 other people walking next to me," said Williamson, who is joining the walk for the first time. "If all those other people can do this, so can I. I know physically I can do this."
Williamson says the fight against cancer might have saved her life, even though she has never been diagnosed with cancer.
"I couldn't walk 2 miles just a year ago. Now I can walk 10 miles and it's like it's nothing," she said. "I've lost 25 pounds since I started training for this event. Doing something for someone else has helped me. … I've never had breast cancer, but I'm someone who could have had a heart attack. Now I'm going to miss that."
Williamson made the decision to get moving after she flew to Washington, D.C., to support longtime friend Cathy Youngling during a Komen 3-Day walk event last year. Youngling, making her fourth walk this weekend, is a 17-year breast cancer survivor.
"To a survivor this has been the most life-affirming experience I have experienced," Youngling said. "To walk with thousands in the fight against the disease that almost killed me is humbling to say the least."
It also convinced Williamson to make a change for the better and to join the fight.
"I was there as a friend when Cathy got breast cancer. I always knew I'd support her in any way I could," Williamson said. "Once you sign up for this, you really become part of this.
"Cathy motivated me. She inspires so many people."
Youngling helped Williamson train for this weekend's walk to San Francisco. At first, Williamson walked 2 miles, then 4, then 6. One day Youngling "tricked" Williamson into walking 22 miles.
"I didn't think I could ever have done that," Williamson said.
Youngling and her teammates with "Are We There Yet?" have raised more than $100,000 over the past three years. Youngling committed herself to walking in this weekend's event, as well as one in San Diego in November. She'll be giving a speech during Friday's opening ceremonies.
"In the past many years the opening ceremony has been held at the Cow Palace. This change of venue means we have an opportunity to let the walkers and the world know Marin gets it," said Youngling, a Mill Valley resident. "I am hoping we can encourage a BIG turnout for this very important honor."
Each walker commits to walk 60 miles over three days and raise a minimum of $2,300. The organization says 75% of all net proceeds from the Susan G Komen 3 Day goes to research to end breast cancer and 25% goes toward education and support.
"The Susan G. Komen Foundation does a lot of good with the money," said Williamson, who received donations from, among others, her customers at Featherbed and Bath in the Town Center. "It can only get easier after this year. I'm scared, but I'm excited. It's such a powerful thing. When people have to accomplish something hard, it becomes powerful."