AIDSWALK rallies forces against killer 7,500 celebrate life, remember the dead, raise funds for disease

June 10, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

On last year's AIDSWALK, Shannon Norwood pushed a wheelchair carrying her dying uncle. His life was taken by the disease a few months ago, but she was back for the annual walk yesterday -- this time pushing a stroller holding her 3-year-old son.

"We'll do it every year until he pushes me," Norwood, 26, said, smiling down at young Tyler in a blue stroller. "I don't care what your sexual preference is. A life or death matter is a human issue."

Dressed in flowered overalls and pregnant, Norwood, like many of the estimated 7,500 participants, turned out to remember family members and friends killed by the virus.

Some were there to promote AIDS awareness, others to raise money for medical care. They were homosexual and TC heterosexual -- people who came as families, clusters of friends or by themselves.

Their mood was hardly solemn. Many donned sneakers, sandals and even in-line skates to navigate the 3.2-mile route between Memorial Stadium and the loop around Lake Montebello. And as a woman sang "Life is a Cabaret" from a stage outside Memorial Stadium, hundreds of servings of ice cream and chocolate chip cookies were distributed.

"The walk is many things to many different people. It's a celebration for those who are living with the disease. It is a time to remember those who have passed," said Joyce Cramer, director of development for the Health Education Resource Organization (HERO), which cares for some 2,000 AIDS patients in the Baltimore-metropolitan region.

"It's never been a sad event," she said, "it's always been uplifting."

Cramer estimated that the walk would raise more than $300,000 for HERO. The event has grown tremendously in recent years -- when it began in 1988, about 600 walkers raised $65,000.

For Philip Keck, money could not buy the help he has received from longtime friend and former employee Jan Akers. Since Keck has been besieged by full-blown AIDS -- he believes he contracted the disease from a prostitute -- Akers and her husband have taken him into their Dundalk home.

Yesterday, she pushed him along the route in the wheelchair that Keck has had to use for 18 months because of AIDS-related nerve damage. There are good days and bad days, and Keck, 39, a former store manager, has almost died three times, Akers said.

"I don't look at it as a chore. It's something I do for someone I love," Akers said.

"She's my guardian angel," Keck said.

The demographics of the walk's turnout illustrated how the image of HIV as a "gay disease" has changed, with a growing awareness of its impact across the spectrum of society -- regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

"HIV now involves the family," said Carlton Smith, a community activist who is HIV-positive.

Mary Walmsley said she never knew she was even at risk until she got pneumonia in 1991. Her former boyfriend is dead now, and she has full-blown AIDS.

Since 1991, her marriage has collapsed and she has had to quit her job at a book factory. She moved in with her grandparents in Catonsville and gave up custody of her three children to her mother and father, she said while she worked as an AIDSWALK volunteer in a tent on the stadium parking lot.

"I still feel bad about it," she said of losing her parental role. "When I get sick sometimes, I can't tend to myself."

After she was diagnosed, she didn't tell her two youngest children for more than a year, confiding only in a daughter, Maria, then 16. Now they all know and yesterday, her children were working in the tent at her side.

Though they live apart, she sees them every Saturday. They go to a movie or skating and always eat out. That is the time she cherishes most now, Walmsley said.

"I try my best to make it. I have to be in bed not to," she said.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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