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Willing hearts take to the streets to help others
Annual Heart Walk raises money while creating healthy habits
Danielle John of Cumming holds onto daughter Jazmin, 15 months, Saturday at the annual Heart Walk at Riverside Military Academy. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Knowles Thompson may only be 2 years old, but this young man is already a fighter.

Knowles is a heart disease survivor who was diagnosed when he was only 5 days old.

"They had to cardiovert him back into a normal rhythm because he had a secondary pacemaker," said Knowles' grandmother, Gretchen Thompson.

Knowles and Gretchen were two of many people ready to participate in Saturday's 18th annual Hall County Start! Heart Walk held at Riverside Military Academy.

The walk is The American Heart Association's main event, which brings communities together to raise funds to the fight against this country's No. 1 and No. 3 killers, heart disease and stroke.

"There is a fundraising aspect to it in which we encourage walkers to get donations, but everyone can come out and walk for free and join us," said Christy Eager, the regional director of the American Heart Association. "We really want to get people moving, which is a great way to fight cardiovascular disease."

Eager said that throughout the week teams participated in different fundraising events to raise money for the cause.

"We have had car shows, movie nights, bake sales, a motorcycle ride and a couple of raffles," she said. "Everyone likes to do something different for their team."

Jimmy Adams, the chairman of the event and the president of Adams Data Management, said the walk is a good way to keep the heart healthy.

"It is the best thing for everyone if we can have more people participate, and walking encourages participation because more people can do it," Adams said. "It is a great way to stay healthy."

"We hope that today isn't the only day that people get out and walk," Eager said. "We have found that walking has the lowest dropout rate out of any type of exercise."

Eager points out that walking is cheap; all you need is a pair of tennis shoes and some good weather.

"I hope that people will make this either the celebration of what they have accomplished this year or make this their jumping off point," she said.

Eager said that the Gainesville walk is the largest in Georgia outside of Atlanta.

"I definitely would say that this is a community event because we have so many people who come out and join us," Eager said.

Adams points out that even with the participation, the American Heart Association still needs donations.

"Financial support is what this is all about," Adams said. "We have to raise funds to help fight heart disease and stroke, and with the economy, we are going to fall short of our goal this year. But people have the opportunity to make donations to the American Heart Association all year long."