MIAMI GARDENS – Some walked, some ran, and some strolled at a pace that allowed for cheerful banter with friends.
They covered a five-kilometer course through a residential Miami Gardens community in the early-morning hours of Saturday, March 21 – all for a great cause.
Justin Bishop, 26, was one of more than 500 people who participated in the 5K walk/run event that raised funds to support people living with sickle-cell anemia.
He is also one of the many people in the country afflicted with the disease. It is estimated that one in 10 black people have sickle-cell anemia.
The tall, handsome Florida Memorial University junior finished the course (which is the equivalent of 3.1 miles) in 47 minutes. The race began at Dolphins Stadium, snaked through the neighborhood, and returned to the stadium, which participants circled once before crossing the finish line.
The 100 Black Men of South Florida, a primary sponsor of the event, manned the grills – cooking up chicken, burgers and hot dogs for the hungry racers.
Christopher Arias, 25, won in the men’s category, with a time of 19 minutes, 39.3 seconds. Hilary Marshall, 44, won the women’s event by running the course in 25 minutes and 16.7 seconds.
Diagnosed when he was a toddler, Bishop said he manages the disease well when he does what he’s supposed to do, which includes eating right, exercising regularly and – most importantly, he said – remaining stress-free.
“I get a lot of sleep, don’t let things get to me, don’t let people bother me. I keep a smile on my face,” he said, with a smile on his face. “I take it one day at a time.”
SICKLE-CELL DISEASE EXPLAINED
Bishop told the South Florida Times that aside from a three-week hospital stay that included surgery to remove his gall bladder, he has not had to endure serious complications from the disease, a genetic blood disorder that affects the hemoglobin in red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is the main ingredient in red blood cells. It helps them carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. People with sickle-cell disease have hemoglobin S in their red blood cells, instead of the normally occurring hemoglobin A, an ingredient that keeps the red blood cells soft and round.
Hemoglobin S causes the blood cells to become hard, and to form a sickle shape. This may lead to blockages in the person’s small blood vessels, causing pain, organ damage, or stroke.
Bishop said that if the pain from a flare-up becomes unbearable, he is able to visit Memorial Sickle Cell Day Hospital in Broward County for pain management and treatment, which he said usually helps significantly and prevents a lengthier hospital stay.
The management major with plans for graduate school said he hoped events like Saturday’s might eventually lead to funding for similar facilities closer to his home in Miami-Dade.
The race drew experienced runners as well as casual walkers, many of whom have relatives affected by the disease. Wisler Pierre-Louis, 28, whose father and sister have sickle-cell disease, said he also decided to participate because, “I’m an active runner and I felt this was a good opportunity to support the cause.”
Bernadette Wiggins, 50, said Saturday’s event marked her sixth time participating. Wiggins, who has a cousin with the illness, said she walked because “this is an important event for everyone, but especially for African Americans who have the disease.”
COMMON AILMENT AMONG BLACKS
Event founder Astrik Mack was the executive director of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s Miami chapter for 30 years. Recently retired, Mack estimated that more than 500 people participated in this year’s event, the largest group ever, he said.
Mack said at last count, the event had raised $22,840 so far, and was on target to meet its goal of $25,000 for this year’s race. He said some of the event’s proceeds help to support research, but the majority of the funds are used to help families and individuals dealing with the disease.
“When families get into trouble with rent payments, etc., we come to their aid,” he said, adding that sending children with sickle-cell disease to summer camps and allowing them to spend time with Santa during the holidays are priorities.
Mack said he remains optimistic that sufferers may ultimately experience permanent relief.
“We have done some significant research in the last 30 years. I predict that if a cure is found for a genetic disease, it is going to be sickle cell disease,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The reporter on this story, Renee Michelle Harris, states that the walk time for her first 5K race on March 21 of one hour, two minutes and 40 seconds was “not bad,’’ according to the event’s creator, Astrik Mack.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Hilary Marshall, left, won first place in the women’s 5K race. Diana Caro, second from left, was second in the women’s category. Jasper Bell, second from right, was second in the men’s category. Christopher Arias, right, was first in the men’s category.