Thousands Raise Money & Awareness During Annual Heart Walk

It was an early start to a Saturday for the nearly four thousand people, who took part in the American Heart Association's 10th Annual heart walk in Gulfport.

The four mile journey from Jones Park, down Second Street and back, is held to help raise money and awareness about heart disease.

Many of those out pounding the pavement Saturday, were also a part of last year's heart walk, which took place just two days before Hurricane Katrina.

For those walkers, this year's event was quite different.

It started out like any other Heart Walk.

Thousands of people at Jones Park, embarking on a journey to save lives.

But once walkers reached Second Street, they noticed a change in the scenery.

"This year, kind of devastating because I walked last year where everybody was in their yards waving, squirting water hoses at you, cheering you on," says walker Donna LeBlanc.

Some things, however, haven't changed.

Debbie Webb lives on Second Street, and was thrilled to be able to cheer on the teams.

"I kept thinking what should I bring out for them, coffee, coke, water, tea? And then I thought, they're not going to want to stop at me, they're just getting started. So I'm here to say Go gang Go! Proud to have you!" says Webb.

Some walkers, like Sherry Shonk, say they're proud to see progress in one of Gulfport's most storm ravaged neighborhoods.

"I was really happy and surprised at how may places had actually come back and were rebuilding, and that just makes you feel so good because this is the best place to live," says Shonk.

And living, is what the Heart Walk is all about.

Funds raised by these walkers will benefit the American Heart Association.

A cause very dear to the American Heart Association's Nicole Noto.

"I actually lost my father to heart disease in May, so in this planning process it's something I went through. It's good therapy for me because I get to work with all these people that believe in this cause," says Noto.

Sherry Shonk says this event means a lot to her, too.

"I know I'm a heart walk survivor, a heart survivor and it's a great cause. And it's wonderful to see all of the people," she says.

People that are not only walking for a good cause, but also keeping the spirit of 2nd Street alive.

This year's walk was held about two months later than usual.

Organizers say they wanted people to be able to enjoy the cooler weather.

So far, this year's Heart Walk has raised more than 270-thousand dollars.

After tallying today's donations, the Heart Association hopes to reach its goal of 300-thousand dollars.