Winston-Salem Heart & Stroke Walk: Blazing a New Trail Together

6 minute read

Two colors will join the autumn landscape in downtown Winston-Salem this October. Red and white caps from the American Heart Association will dot the crowd of walkers who come to support their community at the Winston-Salem Heart & Stroke Walk. This year, attendees will walk through a new landscape, surrounded by the historic buildings, twin smokestacks and open green spaces of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, as the event moves downtown.

More than 7,500 walkers from Forsyth and surrounding counties are expected to attend the 24th annual Winston-Salem Heart & Stroke Walk, which will be held downtown on October 29.

“We’re super excited,” says Sarah Fedele, director of communications and marketing for the American Heart Association in the Triad. “There’s so much life and vitality with all the work they’re doing in the Innovation Quarter and other downtown revitalization projects, it’s a perfect fit to bring this event to downtown Winston-Salem.”

For many, this free, non-competitive event is about life and vitality in a very personal way. The American Heart Association hands out red baseball caps to heart disease survivors and white caps to stroke survivors, so that they can share with others about the battle they’ve fought with disease. For others, it is a chance to show their support for those in the struggle or to remember loved ones who have passed.

For all attendees, the event is a way for the Triad community to come together and support each other.

A Personal Walk

Eric Tomlinson, president of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and chief innovation officer of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, co-chairs the 2016 event along with Allison Brashear, MD, professor and chair of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

In my mind, moving the Heart & Stroke Walk here seemed like a natural fit.

Eric Tomlinson

While Tomlinson is eager to showcase the Innovation Quarter to the surrounding community, the event also has a personal connection for him. His mother and several close relatives had a history of heart and cardiovascular disease.

“I grew up at a time when we did not understand the dangers of smoking,” Tomlinson explains. “My brother started smoking when he was 10. Relatives who smoked generally died early or had poor health.”

Tomlinson made different choices. “I enjoyed playing sports,” he says, “so I focused on keeping my body healthy and strong.”

Watching loved ones struggle with disease over the years helped make Tomlinson passionate about healthy living.

“I think it’s important that you look after your body and your mind,” he says. “At the Innovation Quarter, we have an overall focus on well-being, and I want to bring exposure to the downtown area. We have much change and much growth going on—the energy generated by the people living and working in the Innovation Quarter is inspiring. In my mind, moving the Heart & Stroke Walk here seemed like a natural fit.”

Walking for the Community

Nationally, heart disease ranks as the number one killer of adults, with stroke ranked fifth. In Forsyth County, heart disease is ranked number two and stroke number four.

“Heart disease and strokes are up to 80 percent preventable,” Fedele says. “We can make healthy changes. We want to help people before they get to the Emergency Department. My goal is eventually to be out of work.”

This walk is about celebrating our survivors and a celebration of the improved health of our community. How can we make the healthy choice the easy choice?

Sarah Fedele

One of the major ways Fedele and the rest of the American Heart Association Triad team accomplish this goal is through fundraising. “At its core, the Heart & Stroke Walk is about community-building, but it is also one of our largest fundraisers of the year. This funding goes towards clinical, educational, research and advocacy programs in our local community,” Fedele explains.

Although the event is free, people are encouraged to raise support individually or as a team. This year’s goal is $600,000. Walkers who raise at least $100 will receive a T-shirt after the walk, and there are 10 different levels of incentive prizes. And the event is much more than a walk. Attendees can expect music, games, heart-healthy food trucks and kid-friendly activities.

Whatever a walker’s motivation, the day is all about the mission of the American Heart Association. Other major sponsors include Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, BB&T, Hanesbrand, Gentiva Home Health, MedCost and others.

In addition to local programs, the national American Heart Association has awarded large research grants to Wake Forest institutions. “We are funding six grants right here at Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for heart and stroke research, totaling $1.2 million,” Fedele says.

A Walk About the Innovation Quarter

Some of the investigators receiving funding from the American Heart Association conduct their research in the Innovation Quarter where the event is moving this year. This is one of many reasons Tomlinson is excited about this year’s Heart & Stroke Walk.

“A lot of people know about Bailey Park,” Tomlinson says, “though fewer know about Innovation Quarter and what’s going on here. There is a lot of exciting research, entrepreneurial activities and excellent support groups that are taking root and growing through proximity and collaboration.”

Portions of the buildings will be open for tours after the walk so that the community can learn about and engage with the ecosystem generated by the Innovation Quarter.

“The Innovation Quarter is focused on building vibrant community and driving economic growth,” Tomlinson explains, “and health is central to this mission.”

For that reason, Tomlinson will proudly be walking on October 29th, along with his two dogs, Snowy and Millie.

“For Dr. Tomlinson, this is really a step toward fostering a culture of health in Winston-Salem,” Fedele says. “We’re happy to go along with him on this journey. This walk is about celebrating our survivors and a celebration of the improved health of our community. How can we make the healthy choice the easy choice? That’s our goal at the American Heart Association.”

Whether passionate because of personal experience or motivated to build a healthier future for our community, coming out for this year’s Heart & Stroke Walk for some fresh air, good food and fun should be one of the easiest choices you make this fall.

Register to walk at the Winston-Salem Heart & Stroke Walk on October 29.

by Susan Shinn