As the organizer of a March of Dimes Walk-a-thon team from the Maryland State Lottery, Donna Williams outfitted her two children in a tarpaulin-covered carriage and braved the cold weather yesterday morning to walk 15 miles.
But halfway though the charity challenge, her co-workers were nowhere to be found. And they weren't the only ones missing.
Mist, early morning rain and raw cold put a damper on the annual event, apparently prompting nearly two-thirds of those who signed up to turn off their alarm clocks and go back to sleep.
But compared to last year, the largest city walk in the Northeast was hardly a bust. Late yesterday, volunteers from the accounting firm of Peat Marwick Main & Co. estimated that the day's 7,300 marchers raised $766,000 in pledges. That compares with $922,999 in pledges (and $850,000 actually collected) when about 13,000 people walked last year.
"It's incredible, all things considered," said Abbey Lazarus, director of communications for the March of Dimes charity event, now in its 21st year. "It was bitter cold out there, but we were blessed because it did not rain."
The Baltimore Walk-a-thon has raised more money to combat birth defects over the years than any other chapter in the country, according to Richard Geswell, regional director in charge of Maryland and 10 other states.
This year's route, extended into Baltimore County for the first time, was seven miles shorter than in past years in an effort to attract more participants, and for some people, including Ms. Williams, that had its own reward. Last year when she was pregnant, she said, she needed help on the hills. This year, she said, "I expect to finish."
Ms. Williams, 37, and her family, participating for the fourth year, raised more than $350. For the children, at least, the makeshift rainy day accouterments made for a different kind of fun.
"He's pulling my hair," Becki Williams, 4, reported at one point from under the rain cover as Christopher, 7 months, looked up innocently from the carriage pushed along by Ms. Williams' brother, Donald Patterson, 36.
Senior citizens in straw hats, babies in snow suits, teens on roller skates and fanciful clowns created a spectrum of color, surprising churchgoers and interrupting traffic as they walked a west-north-east-south route from Memorial Stadium, up Charles Street, east past Towson State University and back again along Goucher and Loch Raven boulevards.
"It was a real scenic route," said Tim Causion, 36, an assistant funeral director for the appropriately named March Funeral Home. A Walk-a-thon regular, the ex-marine finished at 10:15 a.m. -- early enough, he said, to soak his feet and get to 11:30 church services.
The day went smoothly, absent mishaps of the past including last year's assault on eight marchers by a group of youths engaged in a contest to land the best punch on the charity walkers.
Ms. Lazarus said the route change excluding Northeast Baltimore had nothing to do with the assaults in that area. Similar incidents have occurred in the past, she said, but they never received so much publicity. This year organizers had the opportunity to go to Baltimore County for the first time, she said, and the route is typically changed every three or four years.
Among those along the new route were South Baltimore residents Paul Ruffner, 13, Kevin Ruffner, 10, and Keith Kirby, 13, their pockets stuffed with plastic garbage bags to use as covers if it rained. They raised $45 for the walk, their third.
Elsie Maher, 77, joined a busload from the Essex Senior Center in a shorter 1.5-mile route from the stadium to Lake Montebello and back -- her fifth March of Dimes trek in as many years. "We walk every morning," she said.
A group of teen-age girls who detoured to a lane off Bellona Avenue in hopes of throwing off some annoying boys said that besides raising money, the Walk-a-thon is a chance to lose weight and have fun. But in past years, lamented 16-year-old Peggy Nitsch, "We used to go home with a tan."