Rain doesn't put a damper on March for Babies


Runners participate in the March of Dimes Walk for Babies on March 23, 2013, in Gainesville, Fla.

Elizabeth Hamilton / Correspondent
Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.

Five minutes to 8 on Saturday morning, the runners were off. Within seconds came the first thunderclap and droplets of rain began to fall. At 8 a.m., the walkers began their march, followed by rain, which fell alternately in droves and light sprinkles.

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Runners participate in the March of Dimes Walk for Babies on March 23, 2013, in Gainesville, Fla.

Elizabeth Hamilton / Correspondent

But that didn't stop this year's March for Babies, which continues rain or shine unless local authorities deem the event unsafe.

"We keep going until they say we should cut it off," said Kyle Croft, March for Babies coordinator.

March of Dimes held its 23rd annual local March for Babies charity event Saturday — an event that has consistently raised more money per capita than any other city in the U.S.

Teams, formed by companies, schools and other organizations, as well as individuals descended upon Westwood Middle School for the event after spending the last two months collecting donations from friends, family and community members.

Unlike some similar events, walkers do not need to pay registration fees, have a specific goal or get pledges for walking, Croft said.

Since fundraising is driven by the participants, the charity doesn't require as much funding from sponsors.

"I'd say less than 20 percent of our money comes from actual sponsorships," Croft said.

Participants could walk or run the 8.5-mile course, which began on Northwest 16th Avenue at Westwood.

The course continued to Northwest 13th Street, and from there participants traveled on Glen Springs Road to Northwest 39th Avenue. Finally participants traveled onto Northwest 43rd Street to Northwest 16th Boulevard and back to the school. Along the way, 13 rest stops were available with donated soda, water and other drinks.

About halfway through the course, participants passed by Ambassador Aisle, which showcased posters made in support of a family member who experienced a birth defect or pre-term birth that were held by families who had children born healthy or who had complicated pregnancies, and Memory Mile, which featured signs with the names of babies who didn't survive a pre-term birth, Croft said.

Although many event-goers and some participants left early due to the rain — this year's event had only 4,000 participants compared with last year's 6,000 — Michael Rosato, who was the first runner to finish, was not fazed.

Rosato, who participated as part of a team with co-workers from RTI Biologics, ran the course in under 51 minutes and said he enjoyed the rain.

"The rain cooled me off, he said. "I guess rain always does when you run, especially at the pace or effort I'm going."

The march was followed by lunch, which was donated by various local restaurants and franchises.

An entertainment and awards show was scheduled to follow, but was canceled due to the rain. The awards ceremony will be held at the organization's thank you party on May 2.

Results, however, showed that one team took all five top spots for the top high school walkers: Chain Reaction, a youth leadership council that raises money and awareness for premature babies through the March of Dimes. In addition, UF&Shands took the company top-walker spot.

Gainesville's walk raised $740,000 last year, and this year organizers expect to raise at least $600,000, but because many of the participants will continue to collect donations throughout the next month, organizers could not yet determine the total amount collected, Croft said.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies by working to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality, Croft said. When first founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, the organization worked to combat polio.

Beginning in the early to mid-2000s, the organization launched, under the umbrella of improving the health of babies, its prematurity campaign, which deals with reducing the rate of pre-term birth, Croft said. There are also other smaller campaigns such as the 39-week initiative, which attempts to ensure that, if controllable, babies are born full-term.

"Recent research has found that a lot of development happens within that last two weeks of gestation," Croft said. "So it's really important that every baby gets at least 39 weeks."

The March for Babies campaign, originally known as WalkAmerica, is the oldest charity walking event in the U.S., and is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It is also the largest such event and has inspired many similar events since its inception.

"Our successes in general speak to (the ingenuity)," Croft said. "I think this is just one of many examples of areas where the March of Dimes has been kind of at the forefront of what it's doing."

March for Babies events are hosted in more than 900 communities nationwide, and Gainesville's event is one of the first to take place each year. Most of the other March for Babies events will take place between now and the few weeks following the organization's National Walk Day, which takes place April 27, said Croft.

Croft credits the organization's working relationships with local volunteers to the event's annual success. He also credits Gainesville's community and culture as major contributors to the continual success.

"I think it's definitely a very philanthropic community — especially with the university here — and very competitive as well," Croft said. "Competition is a huge component of, I think, why we raise so much money because our teams get extremely competitive with each other."

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