Rachel Craven will turn 45 on Saturday, Oct. 16, the day of the American Heart Association’s 2021 Greater Maryland Heart Walk. That’s just six years younger than her father was when he died of heart disease at age 51.
“That was a huge impact on my family,” Rachel said of her father, Dean Craven, passing away when she was just in her late 20s. “Losing him really changed our life.”
Heart disease kept her father from experiencing a number of milestones in Rachel’s life, including her college graduation and the birth of two of her three children. He’ll also miss her wedding to fiancé Jason Bell, which Rachel is planning to take place during the Heart Walk next Saturday.
“It would be a great way to celebrate my dad, who was born in Baltimore, to come to the Heart Walk, to raise awareness for heart disease, and then to get to be at Camden Yards and do the walk and get to celebrate my new blended family there,” Rachel said.
“My dad is not there to walk me down the aisle, but I’m going to use this joining of my family to bring awareness to heart disease so other families may have a chance to celebrate with each other.”
Craven’s family has a history of heart disease. In addition to her dad, her grandfather and uncle — her father’s twin brother Don Craven — also died of heart failure in their early 50s.
“The mission of the American Heart Association will help families like mine in the future,” the Bel Air resident said. “The Heart Walk allows people to love each other longer. That sounds like a great place to start a long and healthy marriage.”
Rachel and Jason plan to keep the wedding small and informal — he’ll likely be sporting Heart Walk gear and she’s been searching for an all-white track suit to wear in place of a dress — and the guest list will be determined by who joins or donates to their Heart Walk team.
“I’m hoping to get as many people to walk as possible. If you want to see me get married, you don’t have to do the walk but you at least have to join the team and make a donation if you want to see it,” she said.
In addition to celebrating her birthday and her wedding, Rachel hopes to use the Heart Walk as a catalyst to a healthier lifestyle so her new family doesn’t lose anyone early to heart disease like she did.
“I’m trying to use this whole thing as a big motivator for me to try to commit myself to getting healthier,” she said. “I’m planning to do a lot of shifting of our diet to be more healthy and just be as active as we can and be mindful of ourselves and our health. We’re trying to have the best and healthiest life we can.”
Rachel, who works with the University of Maryland Medical System, got involved with the Heart Walk for the first time last year at the encouragement of a co-worker. For last year’s virtual event, she made humorous training videos to challenge others to participate and became a bit of a Heart Walk cheerleader for her organization, she said.
“I want to create good vibes and spread love and good feelings,” she said. “And I thought what better way to do that this year than to get married at the Heart Walk?”
The 2021 Greater Maryland Heart Walk participants and teams are invited to the Camden Yards Sports Complex in Baltimore to celebrate heart and stroke survivors, raise lifesaving funds and encourage physical activity on Oct. 16, 2021, or to create a path of their own.
This year’s Heart Walk event will feature a rolling start from 8 to 11 a.m., allowing participants to practicing safe social distancing and giving them more flexibility to walk when it fits into their schedule.
The Heart Walk is the signature event of the American Heart Association’s Heart Challenge program which is designed to help companies positively impact employee overall health and wellbeing.
The funds raised from the Greater Maryland Heart Walk go toward research, advocacy, CPR training and to promote better health in support of the Association’s 2024 Health Equity Impact Goal, reducing barriers to health care access and quality. Visit www2.heart.org to learn more.
To register, visit greatermarylandheartwalk.org, and follow the festivities through the event hashtag, #MDHeartWalk.
Wayne, a lifelong Marylander, is the communications director for the American Heart Association serving Baltimore and Greater Maryland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.