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Keith Birkhold walks with his son Aiden, 3, while looking for the correct-sized pair of shoes to wear for the walk.

5th annual ‘Shoes’ event is biggest yet

Men don their red shoes to either walk or run during Saturday’s event, which raised money for REACT, the Women’s Bureau’s rape awareness program.
Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Participants begin the one-mile journey in their red shoes for the Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event Saturday.
Shane Swygart, from the University of Saint Francis Cougars Cares team, tries on shoes to walk in during Saturday’s event at Headwaters Park.

– With LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” providing backdrop music, the wrestling team from Indiana Tech danced what appeared to be their version of Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance.”

Their costumes were a little less traditional than Flatley’s, as team members were clad in red high heels and cut-off jean shorts.

All 33 of the school’s wrestling team members, plus its three coaches, were at Headwaters Park East on Saturday morning to Walk A Mile in Her Shoes.

The event, put on by the Women’s Bureau, is in its fifth year, and organizers guessed at an attendance of more than 500, said Louise Jackson, CEO of the Women’s Bureau.

“This is a fun event for a very serious topic,” said Jackson, who walked all five years.

So far, the event has raised more than $452,000 for REACT, the bureau’s rape awareness program. This year, the goal was to raise $100,000. As of Friday night, the walk had 476 pre-registrations, the most in five years.

While Mike Ester, Indiana Tech’s head wrestling coach, had a difficult time convincing some students that walking a mile in red high heels was a good idea, he won them over by highlighting the cause.

“A couple were a little (resistant),” he said. “My challenge to them was, people who are victims don’t have that option (to opt out). They’re a lot more uncomfortable than them wearing heels for a while.”

Two students who were on board from the beginning were Brett Yarbrough, a sophomore wrestler, and Adam Fahz, a junior wrestler.

“Most people do know somebody who’s gone through something, sexual abuse or rape, and we’re glad to help out,” Yarbrough said. “We like any excuse to dress up a little bit and have some fun.”

This year, the Women’s Bureau pushed for team entries, Jackson said, and indeed, it seemed as though most people walked as part of a team: Jerry Andrews of Fishers walked with the team for Smith Academy for Excellence, where his son Luke is a student. Greg Spaulding of Fort Wayne, state commander for the Sons of the American Legion, walked with the American Legion Riders. Doug Wood of Fort Wayne walked for his employer, PNC Bank, a sponsor of the event.

“It was harder than I thought,” he said after finishing the walk. “The hardest part was in the middle. My toes were starting to cramp up.”

To forget the pain, Wood ran part of the race.

Others ran, too. When the walk started, some of the Indiana Tech wrestlers jogged their way through the throng of red-heel-clad walkers. One chanted, “Six-minute mile! Six-minute mile!”

Just across the street, at Headwaters Park West, was another fundraiser walk. The Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association was in the midst of its registration as the final walkers for the Women’s Bureau event finished.

In its 10th year, the Alzheimer’s event hopes to raise $191,000 after bringing in $167,000 last year. Organizers expected 1,000 walkers, said Joanna Rosenthal, communication director for the chapter.

Jana Powell participated in the group’s inaugural walk, and she’s walked in each event since, watching it expand each year. The walk originated at Foster Park with 200 walkers and moved to Headwaters two years ago to accommodate its growth.

“I think it just speaks to the impact the illness has on the family,” Powell said.

She walks for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2000. She died three months ago, making this the first walk for Powell without her mother. Her mother had not been able to attend any of the events, but Powell would show her photos from the walk.

The event provided different colored nylon flowers to designate each walker’s role – orange for caretakers, yellow for supporters, blue for those with Alzheimer’s.

“She’s my blue flower,” Peggy Harper said, gesturing toward her mother, Marcie Kiebel, seated in a wheelchair.

Kiebel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year.

“Just a little bit,” Kiebel said, sectioning off a tiny portion of her pointer finger and holding it up, indicating that her Alzheimer’s is mild.

“We want a cure before she gets full-blown Alzheimer’s,” Harper said.

Three generations of Kiebel’s family walked for her, including Harper’s daughter Erin Lockhart. The family participated in fundraiser walks in the past, Lockhart said, but this is the first one that came “close to home.”

“We almost lost her a few times,” Lockhart said, “She’s rolling with us. Walk or roll, I’m just glad she’s here.”