LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lakewood Ranch's bustling downtown Main Street off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard will be buzzing all weekend with walkers and runners participating in two fundraising events -- Walk MS 2014 Sarasota and Take Stock in Children of Manatee County's 10K/5K/Fun Run.
On Saturday, the Mid Florida Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society will host the third annual Walk MS Sarasota, part of a series of walks slated throughout central Florida in the next few weeks.
The walk, which opens at 8 a.m. followed by a welcoming ceremony at 9 a.m., will include two routes: a more strenuous three-mile route
and a shorter one-mile route for walkers accompanied by small children and pets.
All who take part in the Walk MS at Lakewood Ranch will help raise money to assist more than 10,000 Florida residents afflicted with the neurological disease for which there is no cure.
The goal is to raise $44,000 this year. Almost half the money has already been raised by corporate partners, individual walkers and teams, according to the Mid Florida Chapter website. All fundraising efforts support programs and services to enhance the quality of life for MS patients and cutting-edge research.
For 32-year-old Emilie Pinho, diagnosed with MS in 2004, who recently moved to Bradenton from Sarasota, Walk MS 2014 Sarasota is a special day to connect with other MS patients and their families.
Pinho said she is excited to take part in the walk this year because there will be a new, more scenic route surrounding Lake Uihlein behind the movie theater off downtown Main Street.
"This new route will make people love the event," Pinho said. "It's private, prettier, less traffic to contend with and more room for walkers pushing their babies in strollers and bringing their dogs."
Pinho credits diet and exercise and a great family for keeping the progression of her disease at bay and preventing relapses, which is common among people afflicted with multiple sclerosis.
Downtown Lakewood Ranch will quicken its pace a bit Sunday, serving as the host location for Manatee County's Take Stock in Children's Fifth Annual Take Stock 10K/5K/Fun Run.
Runners will start and finish on Main Street. The 10K and 5K runs begin at 7:30 a.m. followed by a free Fun Run for families and children at 8:30 a.m. A post-race party will take place after the event with food, entertainment, raffles and child friendly activities, including a visit from the Tampa Bay Rays mascot, Raymond.
More than 1,000 runners participated and raised $50,000 last year, according to race director Bethany Lynch, who says Lakewood Ranch is definitely a feel-good venue,
"The nice thing about Lakewood Ranch is everyone feels safe and it's easily accessible from Manatee and Sarasota counties and Tampa/St. Petersburg. It's a beautiful course through the country club," Lynch said.
As in previous years, all proceeds benefit nonprofit Take Stock in Children of Manatee County, which helps needy middle and high school students achieve academic and personal success through mentoring programs and college scholarships. The Florida Pre-Paid College Foundation matches the money raised, creating opportunity for young people who have shown desire and commitment to attend college by maintaining a 2.5 or higher grade-point average and remaining drug- and crime-free.
"This is a competitive program because someone is holding them accountable, but it's a nice way to help students in need achieve success and break the cycle of poverty," Lynch said.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.