SALAMANCA — Raising awareness for cystic fibrosis and desiring to find a cure once again brought members of the Salamanca community together Saturday morning with a large contingent of St. Bonaventure athletes.
As the national Great Strides walk initiative celebrates 30 years, the event on Saturday marked the 12th annual event and continues to grow, said Greg Herrick, whose son, Andy, was born with cystic fibrosis.
The connection to the St. Bonaventure athletic community is Andy’s uncle, Darryn Fiske, a Salamanca resident who also serves as director of strength and conditioning at St. Bonaventure.
Before the walk, participants gathered in front of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church where the event begins each year. On the front lawn of the church, amongst all the visiting, laughing and group photos, participants also took time to reflect on the reason they walk.
With his nephew standing beside him, Fiske threw his arm around Andy’s shoulder as he spoke to the large crowd of participants.
“This is why we walk,” Fiske said, motioning to Andy and fighting back tears. “Some of you had asked me in the weight room, ‘coach, what is cystic fibrosis?’ This is cystic fibrosis.”
Herrick, between friendly greetings from so many familiar faces, said before the walk that having the St. Bonaventure community participate adds a unique aspect to the walk, which he noted rivals similar events in larger cities.
“You have kids from coast to coast that go to that school who are here hearing the story of what cystic fibrosis is all about and the challenges it presents,” he said. “They take that back home. So it’s kind of a national event for us — we can touch kids from many different areas.”
He was quick to also mention what he said was the “sheer number of community members” who show up year after year, including many Salamanca Warriors sports teams. Combine all of those groups together — a contingent that practically fills the front lawn of St. Mary’s and spills onto Wildwood Avenue — and it’s a number that is about more than the fundraising dollar amount.
“Getting this many organizations to come and support one fight is pretty powerful,” Herrick said. “It’s always a good feeling for everybody in the fight to see this many people. When you are going through it sometimes, you feel like you are going through it alone. Then this happens and you realize how many people are behind you.”
Before participants set out on their walk, Herrick addressed the crowd and told them “thank you doesn’t seem to be enough but I don’t know what else to say.”
He explained Andy recently started a new drug for cystic fibrosis, noting he thinks it will make a “huge difference” in his life. A new drug is one example of the many advances, he said, that would not be possible without support from walks like Great Strides.
Rev. Michael Lonto, pastor at St. Mary’s, spent the morning visiting with participants and prayed before the walk began.
“We have a miracle among us and we are here looking for the ‘cure found,’” he said, referencing a different meaning to the acronym CF. “This is such an honor for me to pray for you, as you start your walk and remember every step you take is going to make someone else’s life better that has CF.”
Herrick said the walk in Salamanca has raised over $300,000 over its 12 years, with a goal of $25,000 set for this year’s fundraising efforts. Along with the walk, organizers also raise money through a golf tournament in the spring and an Oktoberfest celebration in the fall.
In addition to money and support for local families living with cystic fibrosis, the walk also raised general awareness. After all, more than 200 people — from small children to tall basketball athletes — walking across the Clinton Street Bridge was a sight to behold.
The roughly 1.5-mile walk, which was led by Andy, took participants from St. Mary’s on Wildwood Avenue down to Clinton Street along Route 417 to Main Street, where they proceeded north back to Wildwood Avenue.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website, over 400 walks take place annually across the country to support the foundation’s mission to find a cure and raise awareness for the disease.
(Contact managing editor Rich Place at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @ByRichPlace)