sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Just back from Atlantic City, N.J., where she competed in the Miss America Pageant on Sunday, Miss Georgia Carly Mathis is happy that her first event is the 2013 Greater Columbus Heart Walk.

She'll be one of the pre-walk speakers at the event this evening at the Chattahoochee RiverWalk.

Kelly Mitchell, director of development of the local chapter of the American Heart Association, said the Heart Walk was a "little bitty" walk for years but has grown. She said last year there were about 400 participants and she expects that number to double this year.

Each year, the Heart Walk raises about $100,000. But this year, Mitchell set the goal to $165,000 and has raised $115,000 already.

"The Heart Walk is a real joyful celebration," she said.

There are survivors who celebrate the cause, while others who remember family members and friends who lost their fight with heart disease.

"This event just moves me," Mitchell said. "All Americans can be affected, from cradle to the grave. Our mission is to create healthy lives free of cardiovascular diseases and strokes."

Mathis said now that Miss America is over, she can get back to talking about her platform, which is heart health. At Miss America, she was given the Quality of Life award for her platform.

This evening she'll talk about her work with the youngest heart patients, including a little girl named Abigail.

"That's when I found out that heart diseases can affect people at

such a young age; it's not just older people," Mathis said.

Mathis has a family history of heart disease, with both grandfathers suffering strokes and one grandmother who had open heart surgery.

She said she was told that she had very high cholesterol when she was just 19. Now 22, because of the diagnosis, she has lost about 30 pounds and won the preliminary swimsuit competition at Miss America last week.

"I've come so far and I'm healthy and fit; not skinny," she said. "That means so much to me and I know my grandparents are so proud. They are my inspiration."

Like Mathis, David Hart has a family history of heart disease. The vice president and general manager of WRBL-TV 3 is walking for his mother, father and uncle tonight.

Hart's mother, who fought congestive heart failure valiantly for 10 years, lost her battle with the cardiovascular disease last year. Several years ago his father underwent a triple bypass. Hart's great-uncle died of a heart attack. And prior to that, about a month before his parents were married, a grandfather died of heart disease.

"It's taken a pretty big toll in our family," said Hart, who said although this is his first year involved in the 18-year-old Heart Walk, he's become more active with the local chapter of the American Heart Association.

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