“When you encourage others, you, in the process, are encouraged because you’re making a commitment and difference in that person’s life.  Encouragement really does make a difference.”    Zig Ziglar

Our team of 11 gathers at Bienville Square in downtown Mobile to participate in the annual walk supporting an important fundraiser for fighting breast cancer, a common and deadly disease.  The very familiar designated color of pink is featured in various shades throughout all the apparel donned by our group – tee shirts, hats, necklaces and wigs. Using Smartphones, we take team and individual pictures, quickly posting a few to Facebook, enabling a triumphant swift response from family and friends who are declaring their approval of our mission.  Encouragement abounds! We all sense it.

The strategy of walking as a group needs an expert logistician, and our daughter, Kim, performing as team coordinator, brings helium balloons as the ideal human-form of GPS to chart everyone within our entourage, hopefully keeping us together.  Considering that over 20,000 people are participating, Kim’s idea is shrewd and a brilliant tactic.  Eighteen minutes after the start of the walk, we finally cross the starting line, vividly colored balloons marking the center of our group.

Along the way, we walk  past groups of folks along the street edge who are clapping and cheering as we pass, offering welcomed and needed drink refreshments. We really need such enthusiastic support because the route we expect to be 3.2 miles is actually longer — a crucial little fact we don’t know until approaching the halfway marker! Although my wife walks daily, this is not a distance for which she is prepared. Her normal exercise walks are much shorter.  Any encouragement is not only appreciated, but really needed at this point.

Throughout remaining critical points in the walk, the exultant cheering we experience at the starting line continues as we reach the climatic point of the last 100 yards.  The cheering crescendos along the route, saluting our team’s effort. This is so good that we must stop to take a few pictures of this memorable scene.

Although this annual event is not a competitive race with official rules and timed finish, it has the feel of something really significant. Something really worthwhile.

How important is encouragement to the ordinary, non-athletic people involved in this charity event – especially those who have not trained for trekking such a lengthy terrain?  Out of the 20,000 or so participants, it is likely that many do not have a regular exercise program.  So, what exactly is their motivation?  The common denominator is that someone dear to them survived or lost their battle with cancer.  How do we know? We see printed everywhere we look names of the survivors as well as those who did not win their conflict. One particularly touching simple and emotional inscription reads, “I am doing this for Mom.”   Another compelling statement, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

My simple and heartfelt purpose is that . . . I walk for my sister Brenda, a breast cancer survivor.  Others in our group remember Debbie, a former employee of Hackbarth Delivery Service. One thing is certain: Everyone knows someone who has battled cancer.

During the walk, I overhear someone talking about how important attitude is in the cancer fight. This same story was expressed to me, again and again in a very personal manner, by cancer survivors at Camp Blue Bird, a bi-annual event for adult cancer patients where I had the honor of speaking last year. In clear communication, I was told that  attitude makes a huge difference.  If our mind-set is that important, how can we help those who need our assistance in choosing a winning attitude?  Encouragement.

Does it help to have folks cheer us on, to accomplish a walk that honors someone who has experienced the challenge of cancer?  Yes! Does it make a difference to have supporters cheer you on in the final leg of this walk?  Yes. Does this kind of cheering make any difference in life? To have a supporter. To have someone who cheers you on during the many challenges we face and endure?

In the race of life, whether with or without cancer, encouragement is a major difference maker. We need it along the way. We need it when it matters most.  Looking back from where we start, we appreciate encouragement as we cross the finish line. Does this make sense to you?

I finish the race this year filled with reminders of the importance of encouragement.  It really matters to have people surrounding you, supportive and cheering you on.  And, because we understand this principle, we have the great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those around us by simply . . . cheering them on. If I can be impacted by complete strangers in a charity walk, how much more will people close to me matter if they cheer the things for which I have great passion?  Worthwhile work fueled by personal passion and cheerful supporters is a great recipe for success.

When was the last time you cheered someone on? When is the last time you thanked someone who has cheered you on? Did it make a difference?

Today, I will thank one of my supporters in life.

 Today, I will cheer on . . .



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