March for Babies is always an exciting event, and its origins are hidden in plain sight. March for Babies thrives thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of individuals, families, and organizations committed to our cause of saving babies. Yet the format of the event – people assembling in public to walk a prescribed route and raise money – remains the same year after year. Why is it a successful event? What makes it so popular? Where did it come from?
Until 2008, March for Babies had been known as WalkAmerica, but long before that it flourished in March of Dimes chapter events called “walk-a-thons.” The idea first caught fire in San Antonio, Texas and Columbus, Ohio in late 1970, and chapters across the country duplicated the event with stunning success. Though we date March for Babies from 1970, there were actually earlier walks organized by teens in Alabama and Georgia in 1966, and a 100-mile trek by young walkers in Tennessee in 1965. These precursors had one constant – they were organized by youth, members of the March of Dimes Teen-Age Program (TAP) that blossomed in the Sixties.
The social turmoil that characterized the 1960s brought countless people into the streets to voice their protest or to support a cause. The waves of social activism of the Sixties youth movement spilled over into positive areas of commitment, and the March of Dimes capitalized on this to capture youthful energy to “protest” against birth defects. The motto of TAP was “Go MOD,” and March of Dimes teens percolated with fresh ideas to raise money. By the early Seventies, walk-a-thons of 25 or 26 miles were customary, and completing the full marathon course earned any walker entry into the “Order of the Battered Boot.”
Another impetus for the walks was fitness and health, specifically aerobic exercise. In 1968, Kenneth Cooper, MD authored a popular book titled Aerobics. “Aerobics” was then a new word that described a concept of cardio-vascular health, and Dr. Cooper engaged the March of Dimes and other health agencies in San Antonio in 1969 to put this concept into action by holding a public walking event. One year later, the San Antonio chapter held an independent walk-a-thon, and astronaut John Glenn participated a few weeks later in the Columbus walk. The phenomenal success of these initial efforts culminated in the nationally organized event the March of Dimes began to call WalkAmerica a decade later.
Why do we walk in March for Babies? That’s an easier question to answer. Most people do so because they believe in and/or are connected to our mission of saving babies and preventing prematurity. But the historical background of walking to publicize a life-affirming cause, and thereby staying fit through aerobic exercise, are behind our many individual reasons. March for Babies remains an energetic and enlivening way to say how much we care about babies – it’s fun, it promotes health, and it makes a difference!
I hope to see you out walking with us this weekend!