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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    AIDSWalk comes to UA

    Tucson residents view pieces of an AIDS quilt yesterday on the UA Mall. The quilt was on display as part of the 2006 AIDSWalk.
    Tucson residents view pieces of an AIDS quilt yesterday on the UA Mall. The quilt was on display as part of the 2006 AIDSWalk.

    AIDSWalk 2006 topped last year’s turnout yesterday, bringing thousands of people to the UA Mall, which hosted the walk for the first time ever.

    The annual fundraising event, sponsored by the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, brought between 5,000 and 6,000 people and beat last year’s turnout by 1,000, said Rick Wilson, SAAF director of development.

    “”I cannot see the end of the crowd, that’s how many people there are,”” said Anne Maley, executive director of SAAF, in her opening ceremonies speech.

    Wilson said holding the walk on the UA campus increased the participation.

    The event was centrally located and well-publicized, Maley said. Additionally, AIDSWalk had more to offer participants this year, Maley added.

    Members of the UA men’s basketball team cut the ribbon to start the walkers on a five-kilometer route that started in front of Old Main.

    Among the thousands of walkers were people with signs reading, “”I’m walking in memory of,”” followed by a name. Some were remembered as “”Cousin Darrell,”” “”Bob ‘Daddy’ Reep”” or “”my great uncle.””

    A family of 25 was out in force to memorialize Benny Renteria, who succumbed to AIDS three years ago. One family member was carrying a boom box broadcasting “”Benny and the Jets”” by Elton John.

    The song was adopted by the family about a year before Renteria passed, said Delfina Craven, Renteria’s sister.

    Craven said the song brings tears to her eyes whenever it comes on the radio.

    “”I think (AIDSWalk) is a pretty honorable thing for people to come out and do,”” Craven said.

    Craven said she laments because most among society do not realize the current extent of the disease’s reach.

    About 40 million people are infected with AIDS worldwide, according to Global Health Council’s Web site.

    Along the Mall, more than a dozen booths were set up to support participants with donated food and refreshments, including slushy drinks, bagels, pizza, lemonade and iced tea.

    There was a climbing wall decorated with an American flag, upon which Spiderman and quite a few brave attendees climbed.

    Children were entertained by a moon bounce castle adorned with cartoon characters Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, while the bands Politically Incorrect and TMI played throughout the event.

    At the eastern edge of the festivities was the annual display of the AIDS quilt, which had 96 quilt panels dedicated to those who lost their lives to the disease.

    The 3-foot-by-6-foot panels, designed by friends, family and loved ones of those afflicted with AIDS, fit together to form the quilt, said quilt display coordinators Jerry and Dolores McCall, whose son died of AIDS in 1989.

    The couple has seen babies, women and men remembered in quilt panels, Jerry McCall said. AIDS is not a disease that only gay men have, he added.

    John Zondlo, a Phoenix resident, said he walked yesterday because Phoenix is not hosting a walk this year.

    Zondlo said his wife’s uncle died of AIDS seven years ago.

    However, not everyone walking knew a victim of AIDS.

    Ali Freedman, a senior at Mountain View High School, came out to walk with her school’s drama club.

    “”Every year, our thespian group gets together (to walk),”” Freedman said. “”We don’t know anyone with AIDS.””

    The eight-member AIDSWalk team also gets together to participate in Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS events.

    “”AIDS seems so foreign, but it’s such a huge thing,”” Freedman said. “”It’s obviously a pandemic.””

    Freedman said she believes the population of high school students with AIDS is small.

    “”We pretend like it doesn’t exist,”” Freedman said.

    The event wound down around 11 a.m.

    Two children tried to take home a cluster of red, purple and orange balloons from the walk.

    However, in an act symbolic of the day, the two bunches of balloons slipped through the fingers of the young boys and floated off in the bright blue sky.

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