Williamsburg walks to end Alzheimer's

They lifted flowers to the morning sky, the synthetic petals spinning in the wind. Blue, yellow, purple, orange - each color represented a different experience related to Alzheimer's disease.

A crowd of nearly 600 people lifted these flowers as they walked to end Alzheimer's Saturday morning.

At the kick-off ceremony for the 2016 Walk to End Alzheimer's in Williamsburg, Barbara Monteith explained the significance of these Promise Garden flowers.

Blue for those living with the disease. Yellow for caregivers. Purple for those have lost someone to Alzheimer's. Orange for those who advocate for the disease.

Monteith, a staff member of the Alzheimer's Association's Southeastern Virginia Chapter, said the Promise Garden flowers are part of every Walk to End Alzheimer's across the country.

"There's too many of us who have experienced or are in the midst of this long goodbye," said Monteith, who lost her mom to Alzheimer's after a 10-year battle.

The annual walk raises money for the Alzheimer's Association, as the organization's largest fundraiser, but it also raises awareness, said Gino Colombara, executive director of the Association's Southeastern Virginia Chapter.

"It's about creating community for those who are dealing with the disease," he said.

The atmosphere Saturday morning was light-hearted, as people of all ages gathered at Matthew Whaley, the starting point of the walk. Most wore purple shirts provided by the Alzheimer's Association. Some got in the spirit by wearing superhero garb and other costumes.

Then, with flowers held high, the walkers started on one- or two-mile loops around the downtown area.

Colombara said, from September to October, similar walks are held in nearly 600 communities across the country. Williamsburg's walk was the fifth of six walks organized by the Southeastern Virginia Chapter.

The fundraising goal for the local walk was $147,000, and Colombara said funds raised support the association's three-fold mission: advancing Alzheimer's research, providing care and support for those affected and increasing awareness about brain health to reduce risk of dementia.

Judy Updike moved to the music as walkers trickled back to Matthew Whaley. She clutched a purple flower.

A member of the Colonial Heritage team, Updike personally raised more than $3,000, mobilizing friends and family to give to the cause.

Updike lost her mother to Alzheimer's in 2001, after a 20-year battle with the disease. In the last seven years, Updike said, her mother couldn't speak or walk.

"That's why I walk, is in memory of my mom," she said.

City Councilman Benny Zhang carried an orange flower, representing someone who is an advocate for those with the disease. But Zhang has also experienced the loss of two friends to Alzheimer's.

He sees the event as a way to spread awareness, similar to Colombara.

Sometimes you might think you're alone, Zhang said. But then you show up Saturday morning and see others wearing the same purple shirt, carrying the same flower as you, and you realize,  "Wow, this is something bigger than just myself," he said.

For more information, visit alz.org/seva or call 757-221-7272 or 1-800-272-3900.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

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