Last Saturday morning in Pittsburgh dawned rather drearily, with gray skies and more than a little rain. But the event was advertised as "Rain or Shine," so I jumped in the Momma-mobile and headed for Heinz Field. Although last year was the first time I heard about it, it turns out this was the 11th annual walk. Tunch Ilkin loves to walk, it seems, and he came up with the idea to raise money and awareness for Light of Life in this manner, back when such walks were not nearly so common.
After most everyone was registered Tunch took the microphone to welcome us all and introduce some special guests. These guests included Rocky Blier, Andy Russell, Bill Priatko, John Kolb, and "Moon" Mullins, as well as Kelvin Beachum. Tunch looked around at the many hundreds of people in attendance and noted that 12 people showed up for the first walk. It must have felt quite different then!
We headed out the doors into the cool, damp morning air. Mercifully, the rain had subsided, and held off until early in the afternoon as I was driving home. Here's a few photos, as proof that I actually did it :
We passed PNC Park, and I took this picture in honor of Jones' 3-run homer the night before. After we passed the Andy Warhol Museum and the old Heinz plant (now the Heinz Lofts—if you have to ask, you can't afford them) we headed en masse down to the river. Here's looking across to the Strip District:
Eventually we came to the pedestrian bridge which takes you to Washington's Landing, a good-sized island in the Allegheny River. Washington supposed did land there, or sleep there, or something, but now it is home to the Three Rivers Rowing Club as well as houses and a Western Pennsylvania Conservancy site. Somewhere along here Tunch Ilkin caught up with me—he had begun at the back and was making his way up the line, saying hello to every single person there. This must have been a great deal easier when there were 12 people...
At the end of the island we turned back towards town, and shortly after we exited the island (at about Mile 4) we were greeted by this sight—Craig Wolfley high-fiving everyone.
Eventually downtown Pittsburgh burst upon our sight, but the most beautiful sight of all was this one, because we knew once we made it up the steps we could sit down:
After a great lunch and a bit of a rest I got a chance to talk with Tunch for a few minutes. I had several burning questions for him (sorry, Hombre, to steal your title : ). First, I found myself wondering why Kelvin Beachum had agreed to put in an appearance. I know several of the current players have experienced homelessness at some point in their young lives, and wondered if by chance Kelvin was another such. But no—he's just a really great guy, according to Tunch. He came despite having family in town to deal with. Tunch said that he and Beachum work out together sometimes, and he has been coaching him on O-line technique.
Which led me to my second burning question—does he (Kelvin Beachum, that is) have a decent shot at winning the left guard position? Tunch said he absolutely does. He said Beachum is a fast learner and a hard worker. Tunch didn't make any predictions, but I sensed he felt there was a good chance Beachum will be our new left guard.
Tunch had just been making announcements from a raised platform, and he knelt down to talk to me, which brought me to my final question—how had he managed to play professional football for fourteen years and have such good knees? I am acquainted with another former offensive lineman who played for less than five years, and he has a bad back and blown-out knees. Tunch says it is by the grace of God.
Well, after walking all six miles (yes, I have lots more pictures, in case you require further proof) I felt like I had played in the NFL for a few years myself. I'm currently sporting Chinese medicated plasters in various critical spots and smell like a liniment factory. Would I do it again?
Heck, yes! Next year I'm signing up sooner and recruiting more heavily, and I'm hoping some of you slackers will join me. It was a wonderful experience, in a great cause, and as a bonus you get to wander around Heinz Field and gawk at the Lombardis and the replica lockers from well-known players. Frency Fuqua's picture in a pink jumpsuit and red velvet cape is worth the price of admission, all by itself! So get out your walking shoes, limber up your muscles, and plan to join me next year. I'll bring the BTSC T-shirts : )