Europe, America and what lies ahead
After more than three years on the road walking around the world, it was time for Polly Letofsky to hit Europe. Following some mind-testing times in India, Letofsky had been looking forward to Europe, where she said she expected to communicate with people better.But that didn’t happen.”It was an eye-opener, shocking. I’ll never understand,” said Letofsky, who these days is less than 100 miles away from Vail, where she started her five-year-walk around the world to raise breast cancer awareness. “People were mean to me. They wouldn’t talk to me. One night in Luxembourg, they wouldn’t serve me in a restaurant because they said I was alone. So I ended up in McDonald’s, where I ended up many times throughout my trip. It was almost always open and I could just be there.”After years of mostly staying in people’s houses or hotel stays donated by Lions Clubs throughout New Zealand, Australia and Asia, Letofsky, had to start camping. But even then she encountered some difficulties.”I couldn’t even pay and camp,” she said still bearing a frustrating look. “They would say, ‘We don’t take tents. We take RVs.”So Letofsky learned quickly how to get around that. She would wait until it got dark, and then she’d have a 15-minute window of opportunity to find a place to stay.”It was 9 p.m., and I had walk 20 miles, and I was so tired. But cornfields were good,” she said with a laugh. Until she got to Europe, Letofsky rarely had to spend her own money. In contrast, the five months through western Europe were demoralizing, she said.”You could walk through Australia and Malaysia and not spend a dime,” said Letofsky, who has used her savings and has sold her condo in Vail to pay for part of the expenses. “Then, I hit Europe and no one would help me.”It was heartbreaking because I have expected so much,” she added. “India was the toughest stretch. But Europe blew me away because I wasn’t expecting what happened there.”Coming into NYC
Things got a little better once she got to the United Kingdom, but by then she had lost some focus, Letofsky said.”I was starting to feel very isolated in Europe,” she said.Decompression came when she set foot in New York City.”It wasn’t a hindrance to be an American anymore as it had been in Europe after the war in Iraq started,” she said.One of the first things she did in New York was to go to Ground Zero, where she looked at the empty space where the World Trade Center once stood.”It was surreal,” she said. “But what really shocked me were the flags everywhere in Manhattan.”From New York, Letofsky headed north to walk in Canada. She then re-entered the United States early this year and stayed in Minnesota with her family for one month. A short trip to Australia in between followed -no walk, just visiting friends- and then off to Colorado.”My favorite foreign land is probably Turkey, I just adored it and highly recommend it,” she said. “The place I miss the most is England. But, politically incorrect as it may be, I think there’s no place better than the good ol’ USA.”Evolving abroadDuring the five years her daughter was away, Rosemary Rawson, Polly’s mother, said she woke up many nights thinking, ‘God, where is she?’.”Especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when she was walking across the Muslim countries,” said Rawson, who lives in Tucson, Ariz. “But you can’t worry for five years.”When she first started, I thought it was very unlikely that she would complete the walk,” Rawson said. “But then, when her skills became clear, I realized she had thought of everything.
“As it went on she kept pulling things out of the hat,” Rawson added. “As her mother I’m more astonished than anyone. I’m feeling more awe than pride.”Vicki Tosher, 52, a two-time breast cancer survivor from Englewood, met Letofsky in Glenwood Springs on the sixth day into her walk. Since then, she has joined Letofsky to walk with her in California, New Zealand and Australia.”Polly has learned a lot about breast cancer on her own and from the survivors,” Tosher said. “Her walk is an example of tenacity, commitment, dedication and achieving goals.”The shock of a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease helps you discover that you have more strength than you think you have,” she added. “In her case, no matter what happened every day, she continued to walk. The lesson is that you can make it through hard times and come out on top.”Though she said she hasn’t changed much, Letofsky, who has an incredible sense of humor and laughs even about her misfortunes, said her confidence has built up in the past five years.”I’m still naive as they come,” she said. “But over the years, my comfort zone has grown.”If you’d said to me now, ‘I want you to go over that house and put in the plumbing, I know that I can figure it out’,” she said.Her skills and interests also have evolved in the past years, Letofsky said. “I’m a real fan of history now. I have politically evolved, too. I learned a lot about farming. You’re always walking through the farming areas.”Starting a new lifeLetofsky’s steeled confidence shows when she talks about her future. Although she’ll have to find a job, a place to live and some new clothes, Letofsky said she’s looking forward to be home.”I’m ready for it to be done,” said Letofsky who plans to move to Denver after her walk is over on July 30 in Vail. “Unfortunately, there’s not a career goal I have. I don’t have a sole focus. I do want to get on a career path, though.”
And she’s not too concerned with what she’s going to do, though she says she’d like to write a book about her walk.”This was a full time job, I laugh when people said, ‘What a great vacation’,” said Letofsky, who can now speak and understand about nine languages. “It’s been public relations, public speaking, fund raising.”Raising breast cancer awareness around the world, proved more difficult than what she had expected, Letofsky said.”Once I got going, I realized there was so much to do,” she said. “It was full on.”But it paid.Several countries she’s crossed have started to embrace breast cancer as a permanent project since she was there.”After I passed through Malaysia, the government started paying for annual mammograms for women over 55,” she said.One thing of coming home, however, concerns her: the assimilation process.”I love Vail, but my plan is to move to a new city,” she said. “Every day in the past years I’ve been surrounded by unfamiliar territory and people. I can’t come slamming into a familiar job and town. I’m a city girl.”When asked if she’d like to have a family and settle down, Letofsky said she doesn’t feel she has to have a family to feel complete.”I feel complete,” she said, “as long as I’m honest with myself and not give in to social pressures.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at email@example.com.