MDA Muscle Walk Debuts

Article Highlights:
  • The MDA Muscle Walk, described as "Stride & Ride on steroids," is a component of MDA's Make a Muscle, Make a Difference campaign.
  • The article contains "Why I Walk" testimonials from a variety of people affected in different ways by neuromuscular diseases, from grandmothers to former Marines.
by Bill Norman on October 1, 2010 - 3:15pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 4

MDA has just launched a lively new national campaign that’s putting more muscle power into fundraising efforts for the Association’s research and services programs.

The new MDA Muscle Walk has taken the spirit of the former MDA Stride & Ride program and given it a dose of steroids. Changes include new online Muscle Walk pages, including custom event pages for local walks, and connections to social media like Facebook and Twitter. Armed with these new tools, MDA local offices are beefing up their recruitment of Muscle Walk participants and sponsors. All MDA walk events now will take place at the same time each year (spring), supported by vigorous local and national marketing efforts.

The Muscle Walk is a major component of MDA’s new Make a Muscle, Make a Difference campaign that’s now being promoted nationwide in public service announcements on television and in print. The announcements feature photos of celebrities flexing their biceps and showing their pride in helping MDA win the fight against muscular dystrophy.

TV celebrities, fire fighters, movie stars, U.S. Marines, professional wrestlers, Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders and more are joining in to make those muscles and make a difference with their help.

Meanwhile, MDA field offices are busily recruiting participants for 180 MDA Muscle Walk events that will take place from January through March 2011. Everyone is welcome to get involved and show their support, whether they’re individuals, families, corporate teams, fraternities and sororities, civic groups or what-have-you.

One way to get in the mood for a Muscle Walk is to check out MDA’s flash mob video. (A “flash mob” combines music and spontaneous street dancing to energize and promote an idea.) With the help of 100 cheerleaders from the Universal Cheerleaders Association and Universal Dance Association (both MDA sponsors), MDA’s flash mob was captured on video at Universal Studios in Los Angeles on Feb. 26. You can check out the action (see the sidebar), and sign up for a Muscle Walk!

Make a Muscle, Make a Difference

Check out the action at — and then sign up for a Muscle Walk in your area! After you register for the new MDA Muscle Walk, add the new MDA Muscle Walk Facebook badge to your Facebook page and receive a personal thermometer to display your fundraising acumen, and newsfeeds on your profile page to keep your friends updated on your Muscle Walk progress.


Laurie "Looie" Harris
Choreographer and organizer

“Looie” Harris, western regional manager for the Universal Cheerleaders Association, choreographed the dance moves for the MDA Muscle Walk flash mob.

Timing was tight in order to get 100 cheerleaders together from Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Idaho, teach them the moves and then perform as a single synchronized team at Universal City Walk, just outside Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Harris’ staff videotaped the dance steps and sent them to the assorted flash mob teams so they could get a feel for what they’d be performing. Teams ranged in size from 10 to 40 members, most of them in ninth to 12th grade.

One younger exception was 11-year-old Abbey Umali, MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador, who was as energized — leg braces and all — as any of her older cheerleader chums. (Abbey has a form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.)

On the day of the flash mob, Harris says the teams had only about an hour to practice the steps together beforehand.

“A lot of the students hadn’t even heard of a flash mob, but they wanted to be part of something cool, something unique,” says Harris. “They especially wanted to be part of what MDA is doing to help people through its Muscle Walks.”

The Ochoa Family
Walking to find a cure for Chloe

One really big fan of MDA walk events is 6-year-old Chloe Ochoa of Homewood, Ill.

Chloe, who has spinal muscular atrophy, is about as cute as they come, and friends and acquaintances go all out to participate in MDA walks, with the express intention of curing SMA for Chloe.

“All of our team members care so much about Chloe that they ask everyone they know to support the walk,” says her mom, Kathleen. “Chloe warms the heart of everyone who meets her. She’s a strong and determined little girl — a hero in many people’s eyes.”

At last year’s walk, Chloe rode part of the way in a stroller, although she could get out and walk short distances. Now she has a manual wheelchair with power assist wheels so she doesn’t have to work too hard to push it. “She’s already told me I’m going to have to start running to keep up with her,” her mom says.

Other members of the Ochoa family who take part in the walk are dad Jake and Chloe’s 2-year-old brother, Tysen. They and the rest of the team usually hold their walks at Brookfield Zoo in nearby Brookfield.

Mike Rowlett
His corporate team sends 100 kids to camp

In Dallas, Mike Rowlett, chairman and CEO of Womack Machine Supply Companies, has headed up his company’s team in MDA walks since 2004.

Although Rowlett, 56, has one of the diseases in MDA’s program (facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy), he notes, “This is not about me; it’s about the people of Womack.” Womack employs 120 people in the Dallas area, but the walks draw about 250. Rowlett said they’ve had employees bring as many as 15 family members. “We’ve had suppliers, customers, even competitors, show up to offer their support.”

Why will he get involved in the new Muscle Walk? “To see the smiles on the kids’ faces — that’s what it’s all about for me. As long as I can draw a breath and rub two nickels together, we’re going to send 100 kids to MDA summer camp every year.”

The cost for Womack to do so is about $80,000, and they always raise at least that much money. MDA walks are held in Cowboy Stadium, which Rowlett says nearly all Texans yearn to visit anyway.

And in addition to raising money, they get to meet the kids they’ve helped.

“We’re privileged that the camp allows us to visit one day every year. About 30 of our employees take BBQ, hamburgers and coleslaw, and serve dinner to not only the kids, but the counselors,” Rowlett says. “As I tell our people, it’s a day that just absolutely changes your life.

“All of the employees have to be at work the next day, but we still have to turn away many of them who want to be part of the camp visit crew.”

Out there for their champions

Geckos can get involved in MDA Muscle Walks too, even if they’re really just people in gecko costumes.

Geico auto insurance company (parent of that Cockney-accented little gecko lizard on the TV commercials) is relatively new to MDA walks but is coming on strong.

Joe Collins, regional event marketing coordinator for Geico in San Diego, says the company plans its philanthropic giving around “champions” — company employees who have some personal connection with specific charities. Because Collins’ father has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), he became the champion for MDA.

Geico has been very generous in sponsoring MDA walk events.

“Two or three years ago, MDA invited us out to do the walk. They didn’t ask for money; they just wanted us there to help people have fun,” Collins says. So the Geico team (about half a dozen employees) set up a booth, circulated an affable costumed gecko who wandered around the crowd offering high-fives, and giving away T-shirts, water bottles, hats, flashlights and, of course, stuffed geckos.

“We were really impressed with how this organization [MDA] is run. We’ve never really dealt with another organization as professional. We found it an amazing experience,” Collins says.

Is Geico apt to consider continuing its patronage with the new Muscle Walks in the future? “Absolutely; no question,” the champ says.

Austin Nichols
A tough dude with a soft heart

Austin Nichols of Indianapolis is a professional nanny. That might seem at odds with his background as a U.S. Marine Corps hand-to-hand combat instructor, but it’s actually a great fit.

Nichols, now 33, got involved with MDA walk events by a circuitous route. In 1997, while still on active duty, he was “volunteered” by his commanding officer to serve as an MDA summer camp counselor in California.

“It turned out to be the most fulfilling thing I had ever done with my life,” he recalls.
He continued to serve as a camp counselor in subsequent years in Indiana, and befriended some of the kids who attended camp. His best friend John, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, lived not far away, and he and Nichols would often visit each other’s homes throughout the year, as well as pairing up at camp.

At the first of this year, John died just before his 21st birthday. He was the second of Nichols’ “personal” campers to pass away.

That prompted Nichols to organize an MDA walk team. “I’m not big on asking people for money. It’s not my thing. But this was a cause I had believed in for years, and I wanted to do something in their memory. I decided I wanted to do something more than just act in a mentor’s role,” says Nichols (shown above with two of his campers).

The walk team he helped organize last year was a good one, but he’s determined to make the next one even more successful, not only to honor the memory of his best friends from camp, but others who have died as well.


The Edminson Family
Coming together for the boys

Austin Edminson isn’t doing much walking (he turned 1 in March), and he may not yet be aware that people are congregating to walk on behalf of him and his brother Ryan.

Both Austin and Ryan, 10, have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. They and their mother, Jamie, live with their grandmother, Joy Edminson, in Geneva, Ill. Joy is the dynamo who has organized an MDA walk team for the last six years.

“Our first year, our goal was $1,500; we raised $10,825. Since we began we’ve raised $72,715,” she proudly declares. “I do this for my grandsons. We want to help, as a family. It’s money being raised for research, which is the most important thing, but it’s for services, too. Ryan has been going to MDA clinic since he was diagnosed in 2003.”

Like the Ochoa family, the Edminsons participate in walks at the Brookfield Zoo. They field about 60 participants, and they’re really looking forward to their next event.

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