Chad W. Lutz
“For the first time in 60 years, when we talk about CF, we’re talking about curing it.” – Dr. Nate Kraynac, Director of Akron Children’s Cystic Fibrosis Center

This is the news heard through a feedback friendly microphone last Sunday at the 22nd Annual Great Strides Walk for the Cure, sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Northeast Ohio chapter.
“We now have more tools to treat the various infections that lead to complications with the disease.”
The “tools” that Dr. Kraynac was referring to are drugs like VX-809, a compound that takes the defective protein that causes CF and puts it back in it’s proper place. Score one for the good guys. The only trouble is that this drug is only in the developmental stage. But that’s where the 47 teams and 500 or so in attendance came in.
I arrived early because of a transportation dispute amongst members of my team, stopping at the Nervous Dog, a small but groovy coffee shop off Market Street just past Highland Square to buy a green tea. The sky was about as beautiful a shade of blue as I think I’ve ever seen, with only a few confused clouds loitering in the sky. It was still an hour before registration was even set to begin, but there were already tons of people buzzing around making last minute preparations.
This was to be my sixth year on the job, three donating and three walking. Every year around April talk within the CF community really starts to pick up and it’s then that everyone really starts to come together. Back in February I met up with Suzanne Zak, Senior Director of Special Events for the foundation to talk a little more about the event one on one.
“This is something that takes all year to plan. Right after the last person leaves and the tents are taken down, we already begin talking about what we want to do different next year.”
The event takes you on a 10 K loop that starts at Hardesty Park and winds around, snaking through the Stan Hywett Hall gardens and then back to the park. In the past there have been those that have taken it upon themselves to run the event, but no one appeared to be that adventurous. Aside from a few ornery kids giving their mom’s problems, everyone was in pretty good stride. You could even say, “GREAT” strides.
I actually had the chance to catch up with Suzanne at the event. Though she probably thought me a gnat to her ear, I flagged her down on numerous occasions to keep pace with the day’s charity race.
“Look like we’re going to have a good turnout this year?” I asked as took out my handy notepad, signaling to all that the writer had arrived.
“We should, we generally get about 400-500 people so we’ll see,” she said, giving the fingers crossed face without actually doing the deed. “But it should be fun no matter what.” And for all those in attendance there was definitely no absence of fun. Among this said, “fun” were live music, jazzercise, which included clumsy lessons from Akron University’s own crazy kangaroo Zippy, free food, and the best thing that money can’t buy, free and friendly conversation.
People came out sporting previous year’s shirts and shirts that teammates had created specifically for the event. Teams consisted of about 10-15 people, with team “Erissa” was the big bopper, with about 20 people sporting her name in neon pink and green dotted throughout the field.
Back in February, Suzanne talked about the importance of the Great Strides events to the Northeast Ohio chapter of the foundation.
“The Great Strides events alone make up half the contributions for our chapter. It’s this money that goes towards research and making new treatments readily available to the public.” The event went on to raise over $120,000, which set the new high water mark for the walk, no doubt bringing us that much closer to making CF stand for, “cure found.”
Great Stride’s tagline, “taking steps to cure Cystic Fibrosis,” used to be something of a hopeful whim. In 1959 the median age of survival in children used to be a mere six months. Now, or at least as of 2008 (which I’m sure has only changed for the better since) the median age for infants is now 75X that of the 1959 statistic (37.4 years). And I think Suzanne put it best when she said, “We’ll see.” And indeed we shall. But for now, at least we know we’re making Great Strides.