For Cheryl Brown of Flowery Branch, Saturday’s Zumba Go Red event was more than a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
It was a chance to spread awareness of the risks heart disease poses for women like her grandmother, who suffers from congestive heart failure.
“Basically, her heart is being surrounded by fluid and eventually the fluid is going to win,” Brown said. “My great-grandmother died from a massive heart attack and my grandmother has heart disease. It is very personal for me.”
Brown, the vice president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at Brenau University, kept the energy high as participants danced their way through the two-hour Zumba class at the Gainesville Civic Center. The event was a joint effort between AKA and Gainesville Parks and Recreation.
“We know that physical activity is one of the things that help to improve our heart health as women, so we thought what better way to do it than on Valentine’s Day. So give yourself a gift,” Brown said. “For me, living a healthy lifestyle is important because I know it’s hereditary. It’s all about a healthy lifestyle — moving, eating right, the whole picture.”
In addition to the class, sponsors from local nurse practitioners like Marsha Stringer of Flowery Branch were available to provide information about a healthy diet, offer blood pressure screenings and answer questions about heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women.
“It’s very important, not just for women, but all people to be more physically active, to really know their blood pressure numbers, and really watch their diet and exercise consistently,” Stringer said. “We’re giving out health information, talking to people about making adjustments to their diet, less salt, exercise and that kind of thing.”
The event was heavily promoted through the AKA community and through the Gainesville Parks and Recreation staff. The result was a ballroom full of dancers following one of the many instructors who rotated throughout the event.
“I work out at Frances Meadows (Aquatic Center) and I have a background in cardiology, so I usually try to find heart related events to support and enjoy,” said Holly Allen of Gainesville, a medical software trainer.
“You think a heart attack is like big red flags, rush him to the hospital and such,” Allen said. “My uncle had a silent heart attack, which is really scary because he had it and nobody knew. His chest was really tight and he was having some trauma after it.”
It wasn’t until after a trip to the doctor that they discovered he had indeed had a heart attack, she said.
Prevention and awareness were the main messages of the events. Zandrea Stephens, Recreation Program Manager at Frances Meadows, was there to promote the opportunities the center offers. With classes offered six days a week, the facility at 1545 Community Way in Gainesville offers access to the fitness center and pool.
“When you have diabetes and high blood pressure, you are at higher risk for heart attack and heart disease, that’s why I’m passionate about this,” said Stephens, who began teaching Zumba and began losing weight to finally gain control over her high blood pressure and diabetes. “Being a single mom of three, I’m all that my kids have, so I have to be here and be healthy and this keeps me going.”
The majority of the money raised from the donations collected went to the American Heart Association, the rest to the Children at Play Fund Scholarship at Gainesville Parks and Recreation. The scholarships allow children who may not be able to afford the fees to participate in programs.
“It is very, very important to me for kids to be out doing something,” Stephens said. “A lot of our game consoles and technology have taken over our kids being able to go play outside and ride a bicycle, shoot basketball, and we think it’s convenient. I tell my kids to get outside, go play, turn the game off or the TV. If I have to take it and put it in my room, I will.”
Getting active was the message repeated at the event, and it encompassed the entire family. By making healthier lifestyle choices, people can reduce health risks beyond just heart disease.
“AKA tries to have a significant impact in the community and we have national impact days, and what we’re trying to do is instead of trying to do things as individual chapters,” said Gretchen Mason of Duluth, president of the graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. She regularly attends events that keep her two daughters active and moving, wanting them to know the importance of heart health.
“We try to do these events and have these partnerships so that instead of making a small change we can make a big change as an organization,” she said. “It’s really important for us to get these types of initiatives out into the community because we know at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how much money you have if you don’t have your health. That’s what’s really important.”