The message of Polly Letofsky, the guest speaker Friday at the 15th annual Pink Ribbon Affair to honor breast cancer survivors and raise awareness of the disease, is simple:
“If you take one step at a time, you can take on the world,” Letofsky said by telephone last week from her home in Denver. “I’m not a breast cancer survivor, and I won’t be talking about breast cancer.”
Instead, Letofsky, 47, will recount her five-year trek around the world on foot – letting the demanding adventure, which raised $250,000 for 13 breast cancer organizations, express a philosophy that can be applied to any challenge.
It will be Letofsky’s second appearance at the Pink Ribbon Affair. She was the guest speaker four years ago.
Letofsky was 12 years old when she heard about the four-year walk around the world by Minnesotan David Kunst to collect pledges for the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund. Letofsky filed the feat away in the back of her mind for 25 years.
Then on Aug. 1, 1999, at age 37, Letofsky, inspired by breast cancer diagnoses among friends and family members, took the first step from her home in Vail on what would be a five-year trip. She had prepared for a couple of years – saving money, lining up sponsors and, finally, breaking up with her boyfriend and selling most of her possessions. She later sold her condo to finance the remainder of the trip.
Letofsky looked to the Guinness Book of World Records requirements for an around-the-world walk as her standard: start and finish at the same point, cover a minimum of 14,000 miles and walk across at least four continents. Flying across oceans is permitted.
Letofsky’s itinerary took her from Vail to Capistrano Beach, Calif.; from there, she flew to New Zealand. Then it was Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Turkey (she flew over Pakistan and Iran), across Europe to Belgium and then the British Isles. She flew to New York and then lit out on foot along a northern route that took her through Pennsylvania and finally back to Colorado. She arrived in Vail on July 30, 2004, in her 29th pair of shoes.
The trip covered 14,124 miles in 22 countries. Letofsky averaged 15 miles a day for 1,825 consecutive days.
“I planned the trip so I would be
walking as much as possible in populated areas,” Letofsky said.
Although she was alone much of the time, pushing a buggy with her belongings, Letofsky was in daily contact by cell phone, planning her next stop and securing a night’s lodging.
She was joined by people along the way. Vicki Tosher, a two-time survivor of breast cancer and then the president of the Colorado Breast Cancer Coalition, walked with her in California, New Zealand and Australia. Debi Linker, who had just received radiation and chemotherapy, joined Letofsky in Ontario, Canada, and continued with her for 700 miles.
Lions Clubs International took up her cause early on, passing her along from one club to another, including a three-member club in Giro in Queensland, Australia. She also received products and services, but never money, from New Balance Shoes, The North Face and DHL. Long-haul truck drivers ferried food and other articles to her.
“I was doing four press interviews a day,” Letofsky said.
Letofsky is looking for a publisher for a book that she’s written about her adventures. Her brother, PJ Letofsky, owner of Newcastle Production, produced a 104-minute film – “Polly’s Global Walk” – by retracing her steps to interview people she had met.