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A-T Walk For a Cure hits milestone in 20th year

Cyclists on their way to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

Some participants rode horseback in the A-T Walk For a Cure.

Participants in the A-T Walk For a Cure enjoyed a five-kilometre journey through the countryside.

A cyclist on the return trip from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

A-T Children’s Project supporters weren’t willing to let rain and thunder deter them from their mission on Saturday.
Hundreds of people braved rain and a cool wind Saturday morning for the 20th annual bike ride and walk, which raised $72,000 for research into a cure for the rare, deadly genetic disease.
“It warms my heart and gives me hope,” said Chris Hughes of Houston, Texas, whose 23-year-old daughter Emily has A-T. “It gives us the strength to keep pushing every day.”
Chris Hughes, his wife Beth, daughter Emily and son Blake made a special trip to Fort Macleod for the 20th annual Walk For a Cure.
“We love Conrad and Rhonda,” Beth Hughes said. “We wanted to support their walk.”
The Hughes and Van Hierdens have become close friends through their work over the years with the A-T Children’s Project.
Beth Hughes found a common theme between fund-raising efforts in Canada and the United States.
“It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s in Texas or Alberta,” Beth Hughes said. “The community just celebrates and supports families.”
The Hughes family has organized their own A-T fund-raisers back home in Houston, including a pool challenge that saw Emily walk five kilometres over six hours in the pool in her back yard to raise money.
“The whole A-T Children’s Project is about 30 families that fund-raise,” Conrad Van Hierden said. “Not all families want to get involved, some support other groups. It’s a lot to go through having a child with A-T and then do fund-raising on top of it.”
Van Hierden said he always found fund-raising easy to do for a cause so close to his heart.
“I do too,” Beth Hughes said. “I’m with you. To me, how could I not? I’m not smart enough to do (research) but I can raise money.”
About 30 people climbed on their bicycles at 8 a.m. Saturday to cycle routes of 83 and 50 kilometres as part of a fund-raising effort headed by Brendan Grant.
At 11 a.m., hundreds of people left Hilltop Dairy on Highway 811 for a five-kilometre walk through the countryside.
Saturday’s effort pushes to more than $2-million that has been raised for research into a cure and treatment for Ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-T as it is more commonly known, a rare genetic disease described as having cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, immune deficiencies, muscular dystrophy and cancer all rolled into one.
Conrad and Rhonda Van Hierden, who host the A-T Walk For a Cure from their home at Hilltop Dairy north of Fort Macleod, have been involved in fund-raising since their son Randy was diagnosed with A-T.
A-T Children’s Project executive director Jennifer Thornton, who works closely with the Van Hierdens, travelled to Fort Macleod from Florida to witness an event she has been hearing about for years.
“I came up for this because it’s the 20th year,” Thornton said. “I’ve been working closely with Conrad and Rhonda and the whole team for many years now and I’ve always heard about this unbelievable community supporting this awesome event. I was very excited to come and be here in person.”
Thornton wasn’t disappointed.
“This community is absolutely remarkable,” Thornton said. “It’s a wonderful, kind, caring, fun, supportive group of people. The amount they have done for A-T research over the years is phenomenal.”
That research is paying off, with a type of gene therapy set for a trial within a year for one child with A-T.
If the trial goes well and shows the anticipated results, it will be expanded to more children.
“A-T research only happens because of these grassroots efforts of family and friends,” Thornton said. “We’re closer than ever to finding a cure and this community has always played a big part in making it happen.”
“It’s a phenomenal effort. It really is.”

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