The First Woman to Walk Around the World: The Story of Polly Letofsky
Polly Letofsky began her global journey on August 1, 1999. The starting point was her home in Vail, Colorado. She headed west and walked over 14,000 miles through 22 countries that spanned four continents. During her travels, she promoted breast cancer awareness. She met with people who supported her purpose for the walk. Letofsky would also meet breast cancer survivors in many different countries. In all the places she traveled, Letofsky met people who welcomed her into their home to enjoy conversation, have a meal and offer their help. According to Guinness World Records, Letofsky qualified as the first woman to walk around the world when she finished her journey on July 30, 2004.
When Letofsky began her walk from Colorado: she first walked through the Rockies. She then moved on and walked through the deserts in California. During this time, Letofsky experienced an earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale. Once she was in California, she flew to New Zealand. When Letofsky finished walking this island, she traveled to Australia as well as Singapore and Malaysia. Once Malaysia was complete, she walked through Thailand, India and also Turkey and Greece. Letofsky then traveled to Italy, Switzerland and then Austria. After this, she walked through Germany France Luxemburg as well as Belgium. The next countries on her journey included Netherlands, England, Scotland and all of Ireland. Once she had walked through these countries, she flew back to the United States. Her route was New Jersey, on to New York and then Pennsylvania. She then walked north to Canada. Once this was finished, Letofsky walked through the upper Midwest states until she eventually reached the place in Colorado where she began her journey five years earlier.
The one thing that Letofsky had with her during her entire trip around the world was BOB. It was an altered running stroller made to Letofsky's specifications. It was named after a company in California who made it. BOB served as a rolling backpack. It was able to carry all of her possessions. This would include such things as water, clothes, snacks, her overnight supplies, computer and more. When she was finished with her journey, BOB had patches from 22 countries on it. The altered running stroller also displayed signatures from the many people she met who had survived breast cancer.
During her walk, Letofsky would contact various breast cancer organizations as well as Lions Clubs located in the different countries where she walked. Most times, they would arrange for her to have overnight accommodations. This could be at a person's home as well as a hotel. She would also give talks to members of organization and others who wanted to hear her message about breast cancer survival. Letofsky would always be taken to the place where she had stopped walking the previous day. She believes she was able to meet with over 1,900 breast cancer survivors. Many of them walked with her during her journey. Letofsky was also introduced to five men who had breast cancer.
According to Letofsky, she experienced aggravation far more than scary situations. She did have frightening experience at least three times. This was when people tried to grab her and pull her into some bushes. These incidents happened within a single eight week period while she was walking in Greece and Turkey. The police were called two of the times, and the third time she scared her attacker. She was very angry and fought him off. He ended up running from her. Letofsky was more afraid of animals. Once in Iowa, she was surrounded by a pack of approximately eight dogs. This happened in the middle of a highway. When a car came, she jumped onto the hood. Luckily the car was going slowly. That was the closest she came to being physically harmed.
Beneficial Being Female
Letofsky believes it would have been a detriment to her journey if she had been a man. She believes people felt much more comfortable welcoming a woman into their homes with their children. In some situations, men may have seen another man as a threat. Letofsky believes people in most countries were more comfortable with her because she was female.
Two Sides of the Spectrum
Prior to the walk, Letofsky believed walking in Europe would probably be a good place to enjoy. It turned out to be quite the opposite. Much of Europe was not very welcoming to her. Most people she encountered had no idea she was an American. According to Letofsky, Greece and especially Southern Italy were especially rough, unwelcoming as well as aggressive. The other side of the spectrum was Thailand and Malaysia. In these places, she experienced so much positive attention and was always welcomed. The people in these countries wouldn't let her pay for anything. During the six months she was in Thailand and Malaysia, she was able to live well and spend less than 60 dollars the entire time.
Music and Blisters
Letofsky didn't have too many problems with blisters. They would only occur when she was traveling in an area that was very hot. Blisters also occurred when she spent too much time walking on rocky, sandy or uneven shoulders of the road. Blisters were a problem for her in India because the roads were bad, and it was very hot. During the trip, she also had a Walkman disc. Letofsky carried around 20 CDs with her. When she was able to be in an English speaking country, she would listen to the radio. In Europe, she loved listening to Armed Forces Radio.
During her trip, Letofsky would have to deal with extreme heat, frustration at being lost as well as not being able to communicate. She also had a variety of bug bites and a number of rashes on her arms. There was also the problem of not being able to know what was happening in the world. During her dark times, Letofsky would remember her discomfort was nothing compared to what a person dealing with breast cancer was experiencing. This thought kept her going and helped her get through the worst of times.
Today, Polly Letofsky is a motivational speaker. Her story has been featured in magazines, thousands of newspapers as well as various television shows including CBS Early Show, CNN International, and others. She has written a book about her journey called “3MPH: The Adventure of One Woman’s Walk Around the World.” There is also a documentary about her walk titled “Polly’s Global Walk Documentary.”