6,000 volunteers turn out for 23rd March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon

April 26, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

With a steady hand, Flemming Johnson pulled a little red wagon with his two sons through the uneven brick streets of Annapolis yesterday to raise money for the March of Dimes.

Mr. Johnson and his wife, Lea, took their boys, 6-year-old Bradley and 3-year-old Wesley, for a sun-drenched tour of Maryland's capital, while thousands of other walkers headed through the streets and parks of Baltimore's suburbs. But for the first time in the event's 23-year history, no one strolled through the city itself.

The bright and breezy weather drew some 6,000 people, armed with water bottles, extra socks and Band-Aids, to hike 9.3 miles in the March of Dimes' annual Walk-A-Thon.

Part of a nationwide campaign to prevent infant mortality and birth defects, the Maryland event raised at least $500,000, said Cassandra "Candy" Blakeslee, director of communications for the Central Maryland chapter of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

For the past three years, rainy weather kept many walkers away, Ms. Blakeslee said. The Baltimore walk alone used to draw as many as 30,000 people to the streets every April and was hailed as one of the most successful in the nation.

"What happened is we had horrible, wet and cold weather," Ms. Blakeslee said. "The number of walkers just dwindled and dwindled."

The charity acknowledged that the popular event also suffered by its move away from Baltimore City this year. Worried by new policing and clean-up fees required by the city, organizers moved the walk to the suburbs. Organizers feared the costs would eat up much of the fund-raiser's profit, but have promised to return to the city next April.

Despite the move out of Baltimore, at least 1,000 more walkers participated yesterday than last year. A contingent of 3,000 walkers showed up at White Marsh Mall at 8 a.m. and wound their way to Essex Community College. Others marched through Columbia, Annapolis, Forest Hill in Harford County, and, for the first time, through southern Carroll County.

"It's a perfect day for this," said Sandi Butler, wheeling her 20-month-old daughter, Amanda, across Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis. The Mechanicsville resident was part of a large contingent from Baltimore Gas & Electric Company's Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland that participates each year.

Katherine Collins, a 9-year-old from Clarksville, sported a trendy pair of sunglasses as she led a "Buggy Brigade" into the final stretch to the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

Parents with baby buggies completed a shorter, 2-mile version of the march, which has gradually shrunk over the last two decades from a grueling 25 miles to this year's distance of 15 kilometers -- less than 10 miles.

The national March of Dimes organization decided to make it shorter to encourage more children to participate, Ms. Blakeslee said.

This year, the charity also ended the system of pledging money per mile and requested donations in bulk sums simply for completing the walk.

Donna Rice, Deborah Mackell and LaVerne Brooks, three friends from Prince Frederick and Oxon Hill, figured they hiked 11 miles yesterday because they missed a turn in Eastport and got lost.

"My legs are sore," said Ms. Rice, between fortifying bites of a hot dog.

One 2-year-old was still going strong at the end of the route. C.J., a golden retriever, the mascot for a group of employees from Marriott Residence Inn in Annapolis, bounded up the grassy hill toward the finish line with all the energy in the world.

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