HARWICH – Walking 103 miles is “kind of like giving birth,” according to Laurie Sexton of Harwich.
She should know. She’s done it twice—walked, that is–and plans to do it again next year. She’s walked from one end of Cape Cod to the other to raise awareness for the cause of affordable housing. She’s also given birth, but only once. Her daughter Brittany is 22.
Resting a few days after the walk, Sexton said that all the pain is worth it. “We’ve got to keep young people on the Cape. It’s affordable housing, that’s the main thing. And jobs,” she said.
Sexton, 47, was one of only two walkers this year—the other is Patricia Goggin of Dennis and New Jersey–who completed the entire route of the Bob Murray Housing With Love Walk, a fundraising trek from Provincetown to Falmouth.
The 21st annual walk started July 15 in Provincetown and ended July 21 in Falmouth. Along the way, there were six days with temperatures over 90 degrees. About 200 walkers participated by walking at least part of the way and they went through a record amount of water, more than 30 cases.
There are 11 housing groups that participate in the walk and raise money for their organizations. Sexton participates through her church, The First Congregational Church of Harwich, as well as the Harwich Ecumenical Council for Housing.
Bob Murray, who founded the walk that now bears his name, is also the founder of the Harwich Ecumenical Council and the longtime head of the Falmouth Housing Corporation and former head of the Falmouth Housing Authority. Murray, who is known as a tireless advocate for affordable housing on Cape Cod, was ill and unable to participate in the walk this year.
Last year, Sexton had more company walking the entire route because seven people were able to make the trek.
She got the idea to walk the whole route three years ago when she was walking just the Harwich section and got talking to Jill Scalise, whose husband, the Reverend Dr. Douglas Scalise, is pastor at Brewster Baptist Church. Jill Scalise had walked the entire route and hearing about it gave Sexton the idea to try it.
“I like to set one goal a year for myself,” she said.
She trains for the 103-mile one-week walk by “walking everywhere, even the grocery store.”
As part of her training, she has walked the 10 miles from her home in Harwich to her job at the pharmacy of the CVS in Orleans.
Leading up to this year’s walk, she also trained by walking from Harwich to Hyannis and back, which is about 12 miles each way. It took her about 11 hours, she said.
The week before the walk, she stopped the physical training and prepared mentally.
The hardest day, she said was the first day, which has several steep hills–“that was grueling”–and also “the last couple of hours.” And of course there was the heat. “We were pouring water on our heads,” she said of cooling down techniques used by walkers this year.
Her favorite day of the walk was the third day this year when the walk passed by her church, the First Congregational Church of Harwich.
She gets her energy, she said, by eating a lot of fruit, especially bananas and grapes.
The only special gear she uses are moisture resistant socks. Halfway through the day, after about 7 to 10 miles, depending on the day, she powders her feet and changes her socks.
She listens to the radio as she walks—WQRC at 99.9 FM is her favorite station.
Interviewed just before the last day of the walk, Sexton said she was “exhausted,” but she looked game for the final six miles of the walk.
She has raised some money for the cause during the walk, about $500 last year and $200 so far this year. But, for her, the walk is really about spreading awareness about the lack of affordable housing on the Cape.
“At the pharmacy, I see the struggles. People having to make the decision to pay for medicine or pay their rent or mortgage. You shouldn’t have to make that decision,” she said. “Times are still tough. I think it’s important to get the word out.”
She added, “Homelessness is not what it used to be. . . . I know school teachers who are out of work, people in all walks of life. They’ve got to make the choice to eat or pay the rent.”
Sexton, who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, has had her own health challenges—she is a cancer survivor and has a two titanium rods in her back and neck because of scoliosis—but she feels that overcoming her limitations is important for the greater good of awareness of the cause. “I struggle with my knees and my back, but I’m pretty tough,” she said.
When it’s all over, “you forget the pain,” Sexton said, and what is left is “the joy that comes out of it and the friendships you make. You can’t put a price on that.”
– Laura M. Reckford