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Despite move indoors, Heart Walk was a success

POSTED: September 19, 2009 11:27 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

The annual Heart Walk benefitting the American Heart Association moved the Saturday morning event inside the fieldhouse at Riverside Military Academy as morning showers moved through the area.

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The foggy and muggy weather didn’t bring down the spirit of American Heart Association Heart Walk participants Saturday morning at Riverside Military Academy.

Despite the lack of sun, people came out to participate in the 17th annual event, which helps raise awareness about heart disease and stroke.

"We have never had it rain at a heart walk in Gainesville," said Christy Beth Eager, assistant director of the Northeast Georgia Chapter of the American Heart Association. "We’ve always said it is a ‘rain or shine event,’ but we were a little worried about thunder and lightning."

Riverside Military Academy wasn’t going to let a little rain ruin the day. It allowed the event to be moved into the Beaver Field House, which is equipped with a full track.

"It doesn’t matter where you exercise, as long as you get out and do something," Eager said. "You don’t have to find a trail, you can come in here on a track and walk around."

It was the first year the Heart Walk has been held at Riverside.

"We’re having it at Riverside because first of all, they asked us, and second of all, it’s just a great location," Eager said. "It’s centrally located for Gainesville, and they have wonderful facilities."

Eager said the people at Riverside have been the most accommodating she has ever worked with.

Members of the American Heart Association were busy all week preparing for the walk. They held bake sales and sold paper hearts and T-shirts while promoting their Web site, www.americanheart.org, where people can donate money for heart disease research.

The American Heart Association has two revenue streams to help with fundraising.

"We have corporate sponsorship, and we also have walker dollars," said Eager. "The walker dollars usually come from teams, and the teams are usually from companies."

The sponsors all had tents set up at the event, each offering something different.

"The walkers raise money through the Web site, or doing things like bake sales, and then they turn it in today, and today is just a celebration," Eager said. "There is nothing for sale here today, we just invite everyone to come out and walk and do something healthy."

Eager said that heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 3 killers. Because of this, it is important that awareness about the diseases are raised in the community.

"I think it’s great to come out and see these people who are supportive of the American Heart Association and what we’re doing," Eager said.

Information on the American Heart Association and its causes was available, including the push to keep physical education classes in schools and fight smoking in public.

"We have lots of brochures about our different programs," Eager said. "We also have things such as the memorial display where people can share their stories about heart disease."

Sarah Vargas, 17, and Braden MacDonald, 16, were on hand representing the Student Government Association of Dawson County High School. It was the first time for both.

"It makes me feel like I’m giving back to the community," MacDonald said.

To help prepare for the event, Vargas arrived at Riverside and helped put up balloons. She said it is good for people to take part because "it helps support awareness of heart disease."

Braselton resident Wayne Connell has undergone triple bypass heart surgery. He has attended and walked in the Heart Walk for three years with his family.

Connell feels the love and support from the community when he comes to the Heart Walk and says he plans to make it a yearly event.

"It keeps you healthy," he said. "It keeps you going."

Kelly Bell, Connell’s daughter, was on hand to support her father.

"I’m probably in the worst shape this year that I’ve ever been in, but I said, ‘you know what, I’m coming anyway,’" Bell said. "It’s a big support for him to know that the family supports him and for him to see other people."

Bell said that her dad is in great shape, which offers a lesson for all.

"He’s in probably the best shape that he’s ever been in since I’ve been born, and so that helps us get in gear ourselves," Bell said



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