OTTUMWA — For some, Alzheimer’s is just a statistic, nothing more. But for the hundreds of Southeast Iowans who showed up dressed in purple at Saturday’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, it was personal.

As music blasted on the speakers, laughter, joy and enthusiasm were on people’s faces before they got ready for the walk — and after, too. People of all ages came together to walk, carrying flowers that represented significance.

While purple is the walk’s color, the shades on the flowers meant something different. Blue was for those who had the disease, yellow for supporting or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, purple for losing someone with the disease, orange was supporting the cause and the white represented an Alzheimer’s survivor.

Many came to these types of walks for years, usually with different reasons for coming, whether they knew someone with the disease, wanted to volunteer or if they wanted to learn more about it.

Girl Scout Troop 205 leader Aimee Kirkpatrick had been volunteering with the Girl Scouts at Alzheimer’s walks for years.

Like many at the walk, Kirkpatrick had a loved one who passed away from Alzheimer’s. Her grandfather died of Alzheimer’s, and for Kirkpatrick it was a way of paying tribute to him. Girl Scouts also chose to volunteer because some of them also had loved ones with the disease as well. For these girls, Kirkpatrick thought these walks provided an educational opportunity to learn more about the disease.

“I’m proud that these girls want to come and support,” Kirkpatrick said, “You might not know that a person you see in a store is suffering from the disease,” Kirkpatrick said, “and you come here and know they have it, it can bring you together. It bridges some of those gaps.”

Yulduz Muradova, an international student from East Asia, knew very little about the disease until she and other Indian Hills Community College Students started participating in Indian Hills service project with Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM). The advocacy organization aims to urge policymakers to take steps to address the Alzheimer’s crisis through research, enhanced care and improved support.

For Muradova, Saturday’s walk was an educational opportunity for her to meet people, learn about American culture and learn about the disease. “The disease is in my country. When I heard about it, I was thinking, ‘What if I volunteered to have some contribution?’ which is why I wanted to come.”

Muradova wanted to come, not only to learn more and encourage more people involved in AIM, but to emphasize the importance of this walk.

“It’s good to raise awareness of people who are suffering,” Muradova said, “to help in these situations. It’s worth it for me because it’s just a big and amazing contribution. We need to get a message to Congress to say that we need more funding.”

Michelle Kelman, senior development specialist from Alzheimer’s Association, chose to come not only because she wanted to see what Muradova and others like her were pursuing but also because of her passion to connect with those affected by the disease and ultimately because of her passion for representing Alzheimer’s Association.

“It’s really all about a sense of community and helping others and making a difference in the fight against Alzheimer’s,” Kelman said. “Without all these people coming together, volunteering and fundraising and caring about people that have this disease — we wouldn’t be able to help.”

Kelman said she never tires of putting on walks or advocating for those with the disease even in her many years of working for Alzheimer’s Association. For her, for putting on walks is what will promote change.

“We have a lot of long-term walkers and teams and it’s because they believe in our mission,” Kelman said, “which is to end Alzheimer’s, a vision to be without this disease in the world. We are going to continue to fight to make a difference and have a future without it.”

Prairie Hills Marketing Director Brenda Miller chose to come out because she wanted to be part of this “vision without the disease” and because she lost her grandmother to Alzheimer’s. She participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s last year, so coming to Saturday’s walk was something she planned. Miller also expressed gratitude for the big turn out.

“I thought it would be a big turnout,” she said. “There are a lot of lives touched with the Alzheimer’s being in the family. If everybody realized how much fun it is to come out here and join together on this, we’d have three times as many.”

As people held up their flowers and began to walk, Communications Director Courtney Maxwell Greene from Alzheimer’s Association of West Des Moines was moved by such a scene, also described it as a “perfect way to end the event.”

“The little girl dressed in white holding the white flower brought lots of imagery and symbolism,” Maxwell Greene said. “What really touched me was people holding up the flowers and seeing all the flowers rise. Every ear and every eye got pieces of information that will bring awareness and make a difference.”

— Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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