COLUMBIA — Kathy Hillenbrand held a spinning nylon flower as she and Truman the Tiger led the Walk to End Alzheimer's at Stephens Lake Park on Sunday. The walk drew more than 550 participants, according to organizers.
The blue flower indicated that Hillenbrand, 67, has Alzheimer's disease.
Participants chose among four colors to represent their connection to the disease. Participants with Alzheimer's carried blue flowers, caregivers carried yellow, those who have lost a loved one carried purple, and those who support the cause carried orange flowers.
While Alzheimer's can be seen as a burden, Hillenbrand said she's maintaining a positive attitude.
"I have learned over time that worry is a stupid thing to accept," Hillenbrand said.
Her face painted like a tiger, Hillenbrand talked about living with the disease. Currently, she lives at TigerPlace, an independent living retirement facility in Columbia.
"I'm in there whippin' them men," Hillenbrand said with a laugh, referring to playing pool at the facility.
Beth Campbell, Hillenbrand's daughter, said her mother's positive attitude and a strong support system make it easier to take care of her.
"It can be overwhelming if you don't have resources," Campbell said. "Find a support system, either another family dealing with the disease that is further along in the journey, a support group at the Alzheimer's Association or other resources in the community."
The Alzheimer's Association of Mid-Missouri has organized the Walk to End Alzheimer's in Columbia for more than 10 years, according to Chris Baker, associate director for special events at the Alzheimer's Association.
A photo booth, face paint, music and good weather made for a fun atmosphere. The main event was the Promise Garden, where participants left their flowers during the walk.
Of the three years the Promise Garden has been a part of the event, this is the first year the flowers were able to be put in the ground.
"It's beautiful," Kim Stonecipher-Fisher said, referring to the garden. "What a great way to put a personal touch on this event."
Stonecipher-Fisher, 53, is a Columbia resident who participated in the walk for the first time this year with her dog, CoCo. She carried a yellow flower because her father, Dick Stonecipher, was diagnosed with the disease six years ago.
Even those with a seemingly distant connection to the disease came out to support the cause on Sunday. The MU women's gymnastics team came to honor their media relations coordinator's grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's two years ago. As a team, they raised more than $7oo.
Before the race, $40,000 had been raised. Donations are accepted throughout October and November.
Although final totals aren't calculated yet, Baker thinks the organization achieved its goal of raising $60,000 for Alzheimer's care, support and research.