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Rowing for healthy hearts: JU pitches in on ‘Wear Red Day’

Eighty-two rowers from Jacksonville University and the Brooks Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program logged more than 2.1 million meters — nearly 1,342 miles — during the 24 Strokes for Heart Ergathon on Feb. 1-2 at JU’s Negaard Rowing Center.

The rowing marathon was among a handful of community-wide American Heart Association “National Wear Red Day” events on Feb. 1 in the Jacksonville area. The participants continuously rowed on indoor machines called “ergometers” to raise awareness for women’s heart health; February is American Heart Month.

Heart disease is the top killer of women and men; in 2010, the First Coast lost 3,371 residents to heart diseases or stroke.

“It’s great for our program at JU to be able to contribute and support the American Heart Association,” said JU Director of Rowing Jim Mitchell. “Rowing is such a heart healthy sport, it’s a natural tie. It’s amazing to be able to have the adaptive athletes from Brooks also be a part of this. I am blown away at how many meters some of these athletes … are putting into this event.”

Austin Vestal, a 24-year-old Brooks Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports program athlete who sustained traumatic brain injury in a June 2012 truck accident, said he rows to keep active and rehabilitate. He says he participated in the Ergathon to support the American Heart Association’s efforts.

“I am participating today because heart disease puts people in such a bad predicament. I can relate to them; my accident has changed my life, too,” he said.

His mother, Sandra Vestal, says that her son’s recovery has been aided by the help of many others — and she wanted to pass it on.

“It does take a village to raise a family,  especially in times like these,” she said. “There is a history of heart disease in our lives and I want my family to be aware at an early age of how to prevent this.”

Gregory Crawforth, a 24-year-old Brooks Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports program athlete with cerebral palsy, rowed nearly 11 miles Friday and Saturday.

“I came back today (Saturday) to support the American Heart Association and women’s heart health,” he said. “I have family who have health issues and this is important to me. Secondly, I am out of shape and this is good exercise.”

Click here for the Florida Times-Union’s photo coverage of the Ergathon. Click on this Wave Weekly article for more information about the event or about National Wear Red Day, American Heart Month, the American Heart Association or Brooks Rehabilitation.

Here are photos from the 24 Strokes for Heart Ergathon at JU: