Walkers on the team “Mikayla’s Marvels” pass by a sign saying: “When we grow up, we want to be…” one of the themes of the annual Buddy Walk Saturday at Spring River Park and Zoo. (Amy Vogelsang Photo)
“10… 9… 8…” The countdown started. “… 3… 2… 1…” And they were off. More than 650 people began their walk around Spring River Park and Zoo Saturday morning.
It was cold. Breaths floated on the air and people shivered under their layers. But in the excitement, coats got thinner and various team shirts produced a rainbow of color as those teams stuck together in the annual Buddy Walk, a walk to raise awareness and acceptance of those with Down syndrome.
This year’s turnout topped all past years, and people from all over came out for the event.
A special walker and guest speaker from Friday night’s dinner, Rachel Mast, 14, came all the way from Kansas with her mom, Jawanda Mast, for the Buddy Walk.
She is one of the self advocates asked in for the event every year and she pretty much tells people who she is and what she wants to be, Jawanda said.
Mast’s specific presentation is entitled “I Love My Life,” and the way she smiles at everyone, cheers on her friends as they make their way down a park slide and enthusiastically tackles everything around her, it’s clear that she does in fact love her life.
Her favorite part, besides spending time with mom, is making new friends, Mast said. And that clearly hasn’t been hard for her to do.
The Buddy Walk was originally started at a national level almost 20 years ago to promote inclusion and acceptance of people with Down syndrome, Jawanda explained.
She believes that since the inclusion of those with Down syndrome, today’s children “don’t necessarily see them as different,” she said. “But I mean, we’re all different.”
When Jawanda was pregnant with Mast, her niece explained it quite simply: “I don’t see what the big deal is. (Rachel) is going to have challenges, but we all have challenges. Hers are just going to be different challenges.”
Usually part of a Buddy Walk back home under the team name Rachel’s Razorbacks, she joined Addie’s Angels while in Roswell.
A couple of other teams also stood out. Parker’s Pacesetters raised the most money, more than $4,600. With 106 walkers, Mikayla’s Marvels had more people than any team in Roswell’s Buddy Walk history.
To help kickoff the morning, Jazzercise led some dances to get everyone’s blood flowing and cheerleaders from Goddard and Roswell high schools each did a cheer. Then the walking began.
Later in the day, Let’s Play Entertainment, Just Dance, Tom Blake and Friends, David and Tina and Jessica and Jennifer Band took turns on stage providing music and entertainment.
The most impressive thing for most people, however, is the increasing number of people who show up each year.
“I look out and always get teary,” Jawanda said. “It’s so overwhelming in a good way to see all these people come out and support Down syndrome.”