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Walking with purpose

For many, personal experiences motivate them to join the heart walk.

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002

[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
The exact number of participants in the American Heart Association Heart Walk wasn't calculated as of Saturday, but event organizers expected to raise $100,000 from registrations.
SPRING HILL -- Bobbi Bennett put her feet to the pavement last year when she did the American Heart Association Heart Walk.

Two months later, her grandmother was in the hospital to have a heart valve replaced and pacemaker put in her chest.

On Saturday, it was her her grandmother's ordeal as much as her feet that fueled the 30-year-old Brooksville resident's participation in the annual event.

"I did it last year because it was a good idea," Bennett said. "This year, it's a little more personal."

Bennett was among the hundreds who rose early Saturday, donned sneakers and sweat pants, and walked 3 miles on the grounds of Heritage Pines Country Club to raise money for the fight against heart disease and stroke.

For the first time, the event was organized as a joint effort by association groups in Pasco and Hernando counties, which until this year held separate annual walks.

Just fewer than 1,000 people registered to take part, many as part of teams sponsored by area businesses. As expected, several hundred unregistered walkers also showed up.

Final numbers were not available Saturday morning, but walk director Amy Schurfranz said organizers expected to raise $100,000 to fund research on cardiovascular disease. Some of the money, Schurfranz said, also will go to education and prevention programs.

"Heart disease now affects young and old," said Pat Eckert, a Bank of America vice president who served as chairperson for the walk. "We need to spread the word."

According to the American Heart Association, a person dies of cardiovascular disease every 33 seconds in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the country, according to association figures, responsible for nearly one in every two deaths every year. Matt Wheeldon, 33, made the trip from Palm Harbor with his wife, Tara, and 4-month-old daughter, Morgan Taylor, to take part.

"I'm doing it for my father," Wheeldon said. "My father had a heart attack about two years ago."

Ann Mitchum, 40, of New Port Richey gathered a group of five 13 and 14-year-olds from her church to do the walk. Many of the teenagers had been up late the night before at an amusement park.

"They got up very early on a Saturday, and I'm proud of them," Mitchum said.

Before they started out, the youths jived and gyrated to oldies piped through a public address system.

Among them was Mitchum's 13-year-old daughter, Christy Smith.

"I have always wanted to do something like this," Smith said, "to help people that are in need."

On Nov. 2, another Heart Walk is scheduled to take place at the Pasco Regional Medical Centerin Dade City.

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127 or .

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