MORE than 70 people pounded the pavements from Belfast to Dublin earlier this month, walking 110 miles in a bid to raise vital funds and awareness of a rare genetic disorder.
North Belfast mum Angela Davis was behind the fundraiser for the Williams Syndrome Association of Ireland (WSAI) – a charity which supports people affected by Williams Syndrome and their families.
Angela became involved with the charity when her son Alex was diagnosed with the condition shortly after his first birthday. She explained that she found the support offered by the WSAI "invaluable", adding that both she and Alex, now 15, continue to benefit hugely from the events and activities the WSAI organise.
Walkers raised over £15,000, a sum which has vastly exceeded Angela's expectations. "Our aim was to raise £10,000 and we thought we'd be lucky to get that," Angela said. "I'm absolutely amazed by how generous and kind people were, even just asking for information and saying what a fantastic job we were doing."
Although she's delighted by the amount of money raised, Angela said that her main aim was always to increase awareness of the condition.
"We need to focus on awareness, we need to focus on getting the word out about the syndrome to help the people out there who don't know the charity is there.
"Three families who have children with Williams Syndrome approached walkers at various times, saying they weren't aware there was any help out there. I was talking to people and giving them my number and volunteers were directing people to the website."
Angela was especially proud of Alex who walked around 20 miles of the route himself.
"Alex did the first 10 miles then he went through all the towns with the collections. He did a walk in Drogheda, through the town centre, and he did the last five miles into Dublin," Angela explained.
Among the walkers was a team from Queen's University Belfast. Dr Mary Hanley, who lectures in developmental psychology, was joined by eight students for the first and last legs of the walk.
Dr Hanley has been working closely with the WSAI as she carries out research into the condition.
"From the get-go, I thought the 'Walk for Williams' was an excellent idea," Dr Hanley explained.
"I took part to show my support to the Williams syndrome Association of Ireland, who are a fantastic organisation - despite being so small, with no state funding. Through their own fundraising efforts they manage to cater so well for the needs of their Williams people."
•Williams Syndrome is thought to occur in one in 20,000 births. However, diagnoses are increasing as genetic testing becomes more advanced. •The condition is typically associated with heart and kidney problems as well as mild to moderate learning difficulties.
•Williams people (as they are known) have an unusual affinity with music and can be gifted musicians.
For more information visit: www.wsai.ie/