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Thousands walk to end Alzheimer's at Angel Stadium

ANAHEIM -- The red of Angel Stadium was juxtaposed with 11,000 walkers clad in yellow, orange, purple and blue on Saturday morning, forming a colorful and emotional scene at the Walk to End Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Association of Orange County put on the event -- the last such walk in Orange County this year, and the third year in a row that Angel Stadium has played host to the finale. Before Saturday's walk began, $900,000 had been raised for the AAOC, and organizers expected the final total to exceed $1 million.

"It gives us hope," said walk manager David Blair. "There's 84,000 people in Orange County alone who have this disease, and every year that this specific event increases, it tells us that we're reaching more people."

The 11,000-or-so participants at the event, marked an increase of just under 50 percent from last year's walk. This year's route began at the home plate entrance and looped around the outside of the stadium, before participants entered the field on the right-field warning track.

"The biggest thing is the whole feeling of not being alone," Blair said. "The camaraderie here -- it's complete strangers getting to talk on their walk through, and share each other's stories. It's really amazing."

As the participants entered the stadium, they cheered and chanted, creating a wall of noise which echoed through the otherwise empty ballpark. Some sported signs and T-shirts for loved ones. Every participant held at least one pinwheel flower with a different color -- yellow showing support for someone battling the disease; purple honoring a lost loved one; blue representing a personal fight; and orange symbolizing support for the cause.

Kris Jablonski of Brea, Calif., led a group of about eight people sporting "Tony's Tigers" shirts, honoring her late father-in-law, Tony Jablonski. The shirts featured a picture of Tony and his granddaughter.

"It's really amazing that we're getting this kind of support," said Jablonski, moments after she crossed the finish line. "You've got the band playing, I'm feeling pumped up, I'm excited. I'm hoping we earned enough money to make one further step in Alzheimer's research."

The band played outside the Angel Stadium entrance before, during and after the walk, with about 60 vendors having set up tents. Meanwhile, a 12-person drumline led the procession around and through the stadium.

The significance of the moment was not lost on Jim McAleer, the CEO of the Alzheimer's Association of Orange County who lost both of his grandmothers to Alzheimer's.

"I've got the drumline behind me, I'm surrounded by these walkers, and I just had a sense of the magnitude of this thing," McAleer said.

"I'm looking out at family," he continued. "I see those people with the blue flowers, meaning they have Alzheimer's -- and I see grandma. It's a very personal thing."

The Angels have a history of working as partners with the AAOC. After every win, the Angels light up their halo outside Angel Stadium, and in June -- Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month -- the halo was lit with the color purple, symbolizing the occasion.

"It's a great event, and it hits home because of the person I've lost," said Robert Ruse, a die-hard Angels fan from Tustin, Calif., who was honoring his grandmother. "It's a great thing, and hopefully some day they raise enough money and awareness to be able to find a cure."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.
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