Katie Blanco holds the handle of her 13-month-old son Nico’s stroller with one hand and a camera in the other. It’s a little after 7 a.m. on Sept. 10 and Blanco has been at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens from 5:30 a.m. to take photos of her husband, Alex, and cheer him on as he runs in the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America Miami-Dade Chapter's 5K Walk/Run.
“Right now I am a cheerleader on the side,” she says as she looks out for the runners to appear. “He’s been getting in shape and it’s a great foundation and definitely the more money we can get towards the cause, the better.”
Blanco was among more than 100 volunteers, walkers, runners and support teams for the 32nd annual event held in Miami-Dade.
A week later, a similar event took place at Gaines Park in West Palm Beach and Sandhill Crane Park in Port St. Lucie, when the Sickle Cell Foundation of Palm Beach County & Treasure Coast, Inc., hosted its annual Walk of Support, entitled, “Walk into a Smile 2011 & Health Fair.”
And the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Broward County will hold its 34th annual Appreciation Banquet on Friday at Volunteer Park in Plantation. The event will honor Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness, Dr. Diane Sanders-Cepeda, Dr. Dorothy Straw, Helen Hinton and Pearl E. Maloney, with a special memorial tribute for Bloneva B. Bullard.
Sickle cell disease is a red blood cell disorder inherited from a person’s parents that affects people of many nationalities, including African Americans, Greeks, Italians and Latin Americans.
There is no known cure for the disease but events such as the walk/run raise funds for continued research in the search for a cure.
Astrid Mack, volunteer executive director for the Miami-Dade group, and a retired human geneticist, founded the county’s walk/run when the University of Miami lost a large chunk of federal funding for its Sickle Cell Center in 1978.
The group decided to register as a non-profit organization and that was when the event got started, Mack said. “We’re still learning all of the dynamics that can make or break this event. We learn from it and move on,” he said.
This year’s event raised $10,000 for the organization and Mack expects additional contributions will be sent in over the next few weeks. The amount raised in Palm Beach was not immediately available.
Mack’s involvement in sickle cell research dates back to the early 1960s, when, fresh out of then Bethune-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman
University in Daytona Beach, he became a biology teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Miami’s Overtown community. In one of his biology classes, he noticed something odd about a blood- typing test that he had his students conducting.
“We decided to type the blood and I saw so many sickle cells,” he recalled in an interview during this year’s walk/run. “I didn’t know a lot about sickle cell then but I knew that that was not normal.”
Tests on the abnormal cells eventually led Mack to a master’s degree, then a doctorate degree.
“I took a human genetics class while attempting to get my master’s and I just fell in love with it,” he said. “Three years later, when I went to work on my Ph.D. I had already decided that I would be a geneticist.”
Mack spent more than 30 years at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, eventually becoming a research associate professor and associate dean for Minority Affairs.
The Sept. 10 walk/run began with a group warm-up headlined by Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders, who led the participants in a series of stretches before the horn sounded for the start of the race that would take them through the stadium and the surrounding neighborhood.
“We are supporting those who have been affected by sickle cell anemia,” said Miami Dolphins Cheerleader Mariela C. – the cheerleaders do not give their last names. “We know it affects a lot of the people who live in the neighborhood where the stadium is, so the same way they support our team we support theirs.”
The cheerleaders sought to motivate the runners and walkers, some running at the front of the pack and others in the rear.
“I thought it was great. The cheerleader’s really helped push everybody,” Alex Blanco said at the end of the race, when he met up with his wife, Katie.
Moses Washington, 31, won the race with a time of 16:32.
“It felt good to be out here for a good cause and actually get to be amongst a lot of people who are supporting a good cause,” said Washington, who is training for a bid to run in the 800-meter race in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
The other top male finishers were Walthou Maxwell, 19:07, and Marquay Smith, 22:21.
The top female runner was Kylie Y., a Dolphins cheerleader, who finished with a time of 27:20. The other top female finishers, also Dolphins cheerleaders, were Lauren J., 28:06, and Jessica N., 28:04.
Following the race, volunteers and participants were treated to a Spinnercize performance by the Underground Spin Club and had a chance to receive eye exams by doctors of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
For more information on the Sickle Cell Disease Association Miami-Dade County Chapter or to make a donation, call 305-324-6219 or visit sicklecellmiami.org
For more information on the Sickle Cell Foundation of Palm Beach County & Treasure Coast, Inc., call 561-833-3113 or visit sicklecellpalmbeach.org
Photo: Moses Washington