Wilmington strides toward cystic fibrosis cure

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Between 40 and 50 color-coordinated teams — some with more than 100 members — packed Mayfaire Town Center’s event field April 30. Dotted throughout the blocks of color were individuals wearing purple shirts with bold letters spelling “I Am A Fighter.”

At 10 a.m., the 1,000 participants started the 4-mile Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis, an annual event aimed at raising money to research cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes mucus buildup in the lungs. The local fundraising goal this year is $146,000, and one of the event’s organizers, Susan Wasserman, said she thinks they will reach it.

Each team raised money and participated in honor of, and usually alongside, an individual with CF, who was easy to spot during the event in a purple “Fighter” shirt. Meanwhile, team members wore matching shirts with team names like Ryan’s Hope, Christopher’s Fighters and Bennett’s Brigade.

The event, which is held at various locations across the United States, is one of the biggest fundraisers for the national nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Wilmington has hosted a Great Strides walk every year for more than a decade, Wasserman said, and each year it has grown. In the early 2000s, when the event was held in Wrightsville Beach Park, it consisted of a few local families walking around the perimeter of the playground.

“It was more like a family reunion,” said Colette Odom, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation development director.

While this year’s event drew a much larger crowd, the family atmosphere endured.

“I love this event because of the vibe,” said Brian White, production director of sponsor Sunrise Broadcasting. “It’s so positive, everybody’s in such a great mood.”

The annual walk brings CF families together, and many of them are already well acquainted.

“We’ve met most of them in the hospital, to be honest,” said Annie Everett, whose 8-year-old son Gareth has cystic fibrosis.

Gareth spends about three months of the year in the hospital, she said, and the CF families support each other through those times. When she brings Gareth in for a more serious treatment, she always receives cards sent from CF families who are there for a routine check-up.

“We’re like family,” she said.

Jess Perkins is new to the family. Her 19-month-old son, Van, has cystic fibrosis. This was their second year walking in the Great Strides event, but by being part of Wrightsville Beach’s surfing community, they have participated in other events for individuals with CF, like the Mauli Ola Foundation’s Surf Experience Day.

“The support is insane,” she said.

Lee Ann Wright echoed that sentiment. Four years ago, when she was pregnant with her son Christopher, she found out he would be born with cystic fibrosis. While she was still on maternity leave, her employer, Parkway Hyundai, organized a Great Strides team, and to date they’ve raised more than $40,000.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will put the money raised toward ongoing research efforts to find a cure, Wasserman said, and its national fundraising goal this year is $42 million. Advocacy and support is also important, she added, but researching and finding a cure “is the only thing that’s really going to make things different.”

She explained their goal by citing one of the foundation’s slogans: “Money buys science, and science buys lives.”

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