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The American Heart Association brought in the cavalry Saturday morning for the Greater Orlando Heart Walk at UCF, where an estimated 20,000 participants rallied to fight cardiovascular disease.

The participants gathered on campus across Memory Mall at 7 a.m. and began a 5K walk around Gemini Boulevard to help raise money for and promote awareness of heart diseases and problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

According to the American Heart Association, nearly one in three children and teens in the United States is overweight, causing higher risks of such heart problems in the future. The American Heart Association aims to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Additionally, it aims to educate and promote healthier lifestyles to improve the cardiovascular health of 20 percent of Americans by the year 2020.

The Heart Walk is the American Heart Association’s largest fundraising event in Central Florida, with a fundraising goal of $1.5 million. UCF had more than 400 participants in the walk, who set a goal of $40,000 for cardiovascular research and education. At the time of printing, the UCF team was at 96 percent of its goal.

“Overall, UCF has helped raise over $300,000 for The American Heart Association,” said Maritza Martinez, UCF's director of community relations. “Dr. German and Dr. Whittaker of UCF’S College of Medicine are the primary promoters for the cause. They help inspire people to participate, and highlight the importance of committing to a healthy lifestyle.”

Sherell Wood, a first-year graduate student at UCF, represented UCF's Delta Meta Sigma Saturday as she slipped on her sneakers, walked the three-mile track and donated to the cause.

“I take passion in participating and I hope they get the money that they need to help those in need," Wood said. "There is prevalence to what they are doing here."

Additionally, Publix decided to contribute to the fight for heart disease. More than a dozen matching white shirts adorned with the Publix logo could be spotted at the finish line as Publix employees from around Central Florida came to participate.

“We’re here to support the cause," said Rebecca Attis, a Publix employee. "We care and want to be involved, even if we don’t know anyone personally with heart disease.”

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Tiffani Daniel is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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