YOUNGSTOWN — Veronica Peavy sought to honor someone close to her heart one step at a time.
“I’m walking in memory of my son, who passed away at 19 from an enlarged heart,” Peavy, of Youngstown, said.
That was the driving force behind her desire to take part in Saturday’s annual Tri-County Heart Walk in Wean Park, downtown.
Sponsoring the event was the American Heart Association.
Peavy, president of the Minority Education Association at Youngstown State University, was referring to her late son, LeRon Montague, who died Jan. 3, 2009, shortly after he had enlisted in the U.S. Navy. The 2008 Farrell (Pa.) High School graduate who enjoyed playing basketball and football, as well as running track, underwent a physical examination that revealed no signs of illness or trouble, she recalled.
Peavy also was coach of her walking team, BCLASSE, of YSU, which had seven members, including Anahni Harris, 19, of Youngstown, who has relatives with heart conditions and walked to support Peavy, she said.
An estimated 750 people registered for the family- and pet-friendly fundraiser, a goal of which was to raise $200,000 for the American Heart Association’s one-year campaign, Jessica Smylie, the local AHA’s communications director, noted.
Approximately 2,150 Americans die daily from cardiovascular disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer. Strokes, which are the country’s fifth-leading cause of death, claim nearly 219,000 lives each year. Since the Heart Walk’s inception, however, mortality rates from both diseases dropped about 45 percent, according to the AHA.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an uptick in the numbers largely because many people during stay-at-home edicts engaged in poor lifestyle habits such as overeating unhealthy foods, while others underwent a significant increase in stress, tobacco use and being sedentary, Smylie explained.
Walkers looped around the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and through the park, with each lap equaling three-fourths of a mile, though participants were encouraged to increase their exercise by taking additional laps, Smylie said.
Many participants walked individually or as part of teams that included “Tender Hearts 2022,” “HBK Cares,” “The Beat Goes On,” “7/17 Credit Union” and “YSU PT Cruisers.”
Among those enjoying temperatures in the high 70s with a firm breeze and cloudless skies while receiving a physical boost were Anthony and Ruth Tsikouris of Poland, who brought their son, Steven, 7.
Anthony Tsikouris, who owns Youngstown-based Campbell Hardware & Supply, recalled that Steven was born with a valve defect and spent about seven days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Steven, who also has Down syndrome, had an aortic valve repair when he was 7 or 8 months old, his father said.
Steven, who enjoys soccer, running, swimming and kite flying, has made significant progress, though it also has been somewhat uneven, Anthony added.
“If he doesn’t feel good, you’ll notice immediately,” he continued.
It felt good, though, for Remy Sharpless, 20, of Youngstown, to get in a single lap, even though she neither has nor knows anyone with heart disease.
“I came just to support healthy living and the cause,” said Sharpless, who also got to meet Scrappy, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers mascot.
The walk also included free blood pressure checks.