For me, this is the best part of participating in a Great Strides walk – connecting with the cystic fibrosis (CF) community. Throughout the past four years, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get out and meet patients living with CF and their family members as part of my job in Patient Advocacy for Vertex.
More than 400 of these Great Strides community walks take place all around the U.S. each year, and they’ve become an important way the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation supports the CF community and rallies others to do the same. Vertex is a sponsor of Great Strides, meaning we support the organization with funding – and with our feet! As part of the Patient Advocacy team at Vertex, it’s my job to help coordinate our company’s participation. In 2018, more than 200 of us participated in over 100 walks nationwide.
So why do we lace up our sneakers? Vertex has spent the last 30 years working to discover and develop transformative medicines to treat serious diseases, like cystic fibrosis. But our involvement with the CF community goes far beyond that – we’re out in the community on a daily basis, supporting patients, family members and caregivers impacted by CF. By participating in Great Strides, it’s an opportunity to let the CF community know we’re here for them, we support them and we want to hear their stories.
To do this, I try to meet and interact with as many walk participants as I can – it’s not about standing behind a table and passing out a brochure. Since patients and family members always make their own walk t-shirts, my favorite way to break the ice is to ask about the shirt! I learn a lot about people that way. Why they are there, who they are walking for and so much more. We also get a little creative. I’ve developed postcards where participants can create images saying why they walk or “spheres of inspiration,” where they can share messages of hope.
Getting even more Vertex employees involved in Great Strides is a continual goal. This year, we concentrated on the eight New England-area walks that span the communities around our Boston headquarters – from the North Shore to Cape Cod to Rhode Island. Our employees living in these communities formed walk teams comprised of their friends, neighbors and family members – and got the opportunity to meet people living with CF and their family members. The experience became even more powerful for our employees because the connections they built were within their local communities.
I have a similar personal connection with Great Strides. When I travel to Miami every year, I sit down to a meal with walk participants the day before the event, and then I go to a barbecue at the same CF grandmother’s house the night after. It’s become a tradition that means a lot to me.
The power of human connection that comes from these walks says it all. The patients and caregivers we meet along the way inspire us to continue to work hard for the CF community. We’ve come a long way, but there is so much more work to be done!
I hope to see you at the next walk!