Heart Walk: Route to a record day

          About 5,000 people attended Saturday’s Heart Walk in Jackson County.


Walkers in the Jackson County Start! Heart Walk navigated a new route Saturday, along the way setting new records for participation and fundraising in the event benefitting the American Heart Association.

Kathy Aycock, regional director of the AHA’s southeast affiliate, said about 5,000 people came out to help, beating last year’s crowd of about 3,500.

Donations were expected to total about $140,000, up from the $125,000 raised a year previously. That’s a good start toward the group’s goal of raising $1.8 million in the area this year, which would beat last year’s $1.7 million in donations.

“We’re considered a community team, and to pull that kind of money out says a lot about this area,” Aycock said.

The AHA holds five major fundraisers each year along the Coast, and all donations to the organization go toward research to combat heart disease, raise awareness of the problem and promote preventive lifestyle measures.

Normally, participants in the Jackson County Start! Heart Walk leave the park heading west along the beach and return eastbound a block north for a total course of about 2.2 miles. However, road work on Beach Boulevard meant walkers started out in the opposite direction and covered 3.1 miles, the same distance as a 5K race.

The revamped route had walkers head east on Beach Boulevard until it curved north to become Martin Street, turn west on Washington Street and trek past the north edge of the park to 11th Street, where they returned to Beach Boulevard and walked east again until returning to the park gates.

Runners and joggers began finishing before a half-hour had elapsed, and the walking majority reached the end after about 45 minutes.

“I think we might stick with this route because it’s better,” Aycock said. “You can walk along the beach longer.”

Shelia Bennett, who works at BancorpSouth in Ocean Springs, said sunny skies and comfortable temperatures made it an enjoyable experience.

“It was perfect; kind of cool when you started and then it warmed up,” she said.

Walking with her was co-worker Coadye Hodges, who pushed a stroller containing 2-year-old daughter Mary Cauley. Hodges, team captain for the bank, said her group had raised about $2,500 cooking and selling hamburgers, chicken and fish sandwiches on Fridays for the past three weeks.

A three-time Start! Heart Walk participant, Hodges said it brings funding and attention to a worthy cause.

“Heart disease runs in my family,” she said. “I think we all need reminders.”

By JAY HUGHES – Sun Herald

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