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Walking to attract awareness

As the sun rose over Channelside Drive on Saturday morning, more than 200 USF students began their trek in an effort to benefit the Tampa Heart Walk, a charity event put on by the American Heart Association that raises funds for the research and education of heart disease and stroke. These health conditions are the first and third leading causes of death and lead to more than 949,000 deaths in America each year, according to the AHA.

“The Heart Walk is one of those powerful things, where we, as students at USF, give back to those who are threatened by heart (diseases), those who might not survive,” freshman Andrew Kirkland said. “This is a way to show that we care here at USF.”

The Heart Walk was a 2- to 4-mile walk that began from the St. Petersburg Times Forum on Channelside Drive and continued along to Bayshore Boulevard. Free water and encouragement were given along the way.

There are more than 600 similar events across the country. The one at the Forum, which is the largest walking fund-raiser in the Tampa Bay area, began at 8 a.m. and lasted until 11 a.m.Stephen Pecoraro, a Student Government senator, saw it as a sign of dedication that so many gave up their Saturday to be a part of the Heart Walk.

“It’s Saturday morning. It’s early. Normally I’d be in bed, but I’m here helping this cause and representing the school,” Pecoraro said. “I think it is very important that students get together and help, not only to motivate, but also support a healthy lifestyle.”

Walkers could enter the event as individuals or as groups. Some students entered representing specific USF organizations, such as SG, Residence Services, ROTC and multiple sororities and fraternities.

“It’s a beautiful thing. I’ve never seen so many people come out,” said alumnus Trey Thomas, who was representing Omega Psi Phi. “Everywhere I look, I see USF. I see different clubs, services, fraternities and sororities. We have to keep this good cause going.”

Although the AHA doesn’t yet know the exact number of participants, it’s estimated that 12,000 people came to the event. Some had friends and family who are living with or have passed away from heart problems. Participants who are fighting chronic heart problems were called “Red Cap Survivors,” who could be recognized by red caps that read, “Fighting Back.”

Those wearing mementos of loved ones lost to heart disease or stroke reminded students of the importance of the charity.

“It’s not about who is walking, it’s about who we are walking for,” said student Brynn McDowell.

To raise money, participants entering asked friends, families and local businesses to make donations. Prizes were given to those who raised $100 or more, including cameras, coffee makers, sports bags and water bottles.

The goal for this event was $1.35 million, according to the AHA. Although the Association doesn’t yet know for certain, they believe the goal was met.

Many students thought the walk was important not only because it raised money for the AHA, but also because it connected USF to the rest of the Tampa Bay area.

“I think that the Tampa Heart Walk really integrates a lot of objectives. You are helping others, meeting new people and you’re taking in the city,” student Domenic Pontoriero said.

Jason Cardillo, a senator who helped represent SG at the event, agreed.

“This event is important because the USF community is not just the area between Fowler and

Fletcher,” he said. “This is Bulls Country, the Tampa Bay area. We are both students and citizens of Tampa. (At the Heart Walk) we can join together and help others out.”