Advocates and supporters alike checked in at Cheney Stadium for the 26th annual South Sound AIDS Walk on Saturday morning. Among them were a number of Pacific Lutheran University organizations, including MediaLab and CircleK, as well as students who had their own teams.
At 9 a.m., participants toured some of the sponsors’ booths. The walk always hosts an art project, and this year participants could make necklaces with lettered beads spelling out their affiliated group or organization or a loved one’s name affected by the disease.
At 10 a.m., Master of Ceremonies Amanda Westbrooke began the opening ceremonies. She described the history of AIDS and HIV and why it is important to have the annual walk.
“It started in the 80s in San Francisco,” Westbrooke said. “Half the population of the city died of AIDS and nobody was talking about it. There was a peaceful protest and vigil to city hall one night to raise awareness of the virus and for those lost to it.”
According to the AIDS.gov website, one million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, so most Americans are at least aware of the virus. Treatment for the disease is well underway, and research for a cure has been funded for many years, thanks in part to walks like these.
After the opening ceremonies, the walk began. Participants walked a loop around the field, led by the Rainiers’ mascot, Rhubarb the Reindeer, and carried poles with large red ribbons attached with the names of AIDS victims on them. Some also carried signs with AIDS statistics.
“We now walk in remembrance of those could not speak in the 80s,and for those affected by AIDS now,” Jane Brazell, Westbrooke’s American Silent Language interpreter, said.
Participants then walked out of the field to the Scott Pierson Trail and around the block a total of 2.5 miles. The first wave of walkers returned at approximately 11:12 a.m., and Westbrook greeted them with a lunch of hot dogs, chips, fruit and water. The event raised a total of $50,000 for the Pierce County AIDS foundation.
“It was extremely rewarding to know that I walked to find a cure,” senior Taylor Lunka said. “It was a great feeling to see everyone in the community come together for this event.”