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Through the Eyes of a Float Rider: Day Four of the 2014 Donate Life Rose Parade Experience

It seems to be that 3:30am is the standard wake up time for this trip! It’s PARADE DAY! The bus will leave at 5:ooam to take us to breakfast and then to the vessel. I have to say: I really did not sleep very well. I was so excited and I kept looking at the clock, afraid I would oversleep and miss everything!

We pulled away from the hotel a few minutes after 5:00am. We were like a group of giddy teenagers, everyone talking and laughing. We arrived at Von’s, a nice grocery store, and they had breakfast ready and waiting for us: fruit, bagels, doughnuts, coffee, milk, and juice. During our ride to Von’s, we were briefed on some last minute details and important things to remember as we began this exciting day. Bryan Stewart encouraged us to pick up whatever snacks “gives you that special mojo” while at Von’s as well as any other essentials such as tissues, chapstick, etc. I immediately thought how good a cold Diet Sundrop and some Lance peanut butter crackers would be. I knew the Sundrop was not a possibility but did not realize until I had searched the store oer like a mad woman that Lance crackers were not available either - you’re not in North Carolina Julie! So, I settled for a protein bar, some peanut M&M’s and a Diet Coke.  Full from a delicious breakfast, we boarded the bus and were on our way.

What an exciting time as we rode through beautiful Pasadena watching the sunrise and anticipating what the day would bring, the emotions, sights and sounds of the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade! We talked, sang, and prayed together until we arrived at our destination. We had a short walk to the vessel. On the way we passed other floats, bands, horses and the Tournament House with its beautiful lawn full of queens and princesses. Upon our arrival at the vessel, we were greeted with excitement as the announcement was made that we had won the Theme Trophy!! And so the interviews and photographs began. Time flies when you are having fun and we were rushed to get pictures done and take our places. It is almost 8:00am!

Bryan told us: “Smile, wave and enjoy every minute of this. You deserve it!” I had to admit, as excited as I was and as much as I had been looking forward to this day and this moment, something inside of me wanted to stop it from happening. I realized that this wonderful experience was very quickly coming to an end. I was spending my last day with this wonderful new group of friends. But… the music started, we began waving and smiling were off, time to” Light Up the World” in this parade celebrating what we already knew, “Dreams Come True”!

Immediately, the crowd’s reaction was both positive and emotional. There were those who stood up and clapped; others blowing kisses; some chanting “Donate Life!”; many with tears in their eyes; some shouting “Thank you!” or “You are a hero!” There were even a few who stood up, pulled up their shirts, pointed to a scar and yelled: “I got a liver 5 years ago, a heart 10 years ago, a kidney 5 months ago!” What a blessing, and this continued all along the almost six mile route! Occasionally, we would stop for a few minutes and this gave us, especially the walkers, an opportunity to interact more with the crowd. We had a chance to hear some of their stories, briefly share our stories and educate them about organ and tissue donation. Let me say that this NC girl has never seen that many people in one place, for one event all at one time. There were people everywhere: in large sections of grandstands, on the street, in the windows, on the roof tops of buildings, in cars and trucks, and in every inch of every space available.

It would be a disservice to the media and to my experience with them, which was all good, if I did not mention media corner on the parade route. Can you say CAMERAS?! Cameras and people everywhere… four or five stories high on simple scaffolding, on the street, in the stands, in the air! Where should I look, how should I look and how do I look? I wanted everyone at home to be able to see me, but I was thinking: I hope I don’t have that squinty, goofy look on my face! I am definitely not the most photogenic person ever and I was somewhat intimidated, and anxious, as we turned the corner. I was thinking about the quote: “There are no bad pictures. That’s just how your face looks sometimes.” Oh dear!!! Then I thought, maybe my health, joy, and gratitude would shine and be more visible than any of my goofy expressions.

The end drew near and we all realized it. It was our last few minutes to be a true part of this incredible experience with each other as a family and with the 81 amazing donors who rode with us, portrayed in flowers and seeds, but with us in our bodies, hearts, souls and minds. We all shed a few more tears as we disembarked and gathered for a group picture. We were then whisked away to lunch where we were greeted with applause and cheers, enjoyed a delicious meal and celebrated with our friends and family and began to prepare ourselves for our return to “the real world”!

Well… what will this evening and tomorrow have in store for us?? Let me tell you now, because I know for sure, I WILL NOT be waking up at 3:30am. Can you say sleep in??