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South point native gearing up for walk

SOUTH POINT – For as long as she can remember, walking has been a ritual for Virginia Delong of South Point.

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

SOUTH POINT – For as long as she can remember, walking has been a ritual for Virginia Delong of South Point.

Weather permitting, she walks three miles daily. Though it is good exercise, Delong said she walks out of sheer enjoyment. Her attraction to walking has led her down a path where her hobby is not only beneficial to her, but it helps others as well.

Delong, who will be 80 in November, has been walking in the March of Dimes’ annual "Walk America" for the past seven years. The event, which leads participants on a tour of Ashland – starting and finishing at Central Park – will be held Saturday, April 28 this year. The walk encompasses over six miles.

For the March of Dimes, Delong is not your average walker – she’s a super walker. Always among the top collectors in the event, Delong garnered over $1,800 last year, the most money raised by an individual participating in the walk. It also eclipsed her collections the prior year by nearly $1,000.

Her involvement in Walk America actually came about because of a personal tragedy – the loss of a grandson.

"My daughter and her husband had a baby," Delong recalls. "He was between jobs…he had no work or money."

Her grandson, Brent, was born with a heart condition and was hospitalized for the majority of his short life. He died when he was five weeks old.

Wondering where the money to pay the hospital bills was going to come from, Virginia said, her daughter and son-in-law found a savior in the March of Dimes.

"The March of Dimes paid all of the hospital bills," she said. "I don’t believe I can ever repay them for that, but that’s why I started walking."

In the weeks leading up to the event, Delong walks more than her usual three miles, collecting money along the way. When she is collecting for the event, she said she is not sure how many miles she walks, but she is generally out from about 5:45 p.m. until 8 p.m. each evening.

With the amount of money she collects, one would think businesses make large contributions to her cause. This isn’t the case, though, as she says the vast majority of her collections are donations made by individuals in South Point.

"One business gave me $50. All the rest of it came from going door-to-door," she said of this year’s collections, which total nearly $1,300. "If I have friends (who live out of town), I’ll ask them for donations no matter where they live, but most of my collections come from South Point."

On a nightly basis, she says, she is usually able to collect around $100. One night last week, she said she collected $153 and followed that up the next night by collecting $130.

Having participated in the event for several years, she says her visibility plays a large role in her collecting efforts.

"Everyone knows me and whenever I tell them I am collecting for the March of Dimes they’re happy to give," she said. "People tell me ‘I’m glad you came.’"

Donations, she says, range from spare change up to $25.

"I tell them to give whatever they can because every penny counts," she said.

She and her husband, Henry, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on April 27. Delong says his moral support helps keep her going.

"If I’m not home by dark (when collecting), my husband comes to hunt me," she said with a laugh.

The couple have two children, son Jeff of South Point and daughter Jeanine Carpenter of Scott Depot, W.Va. They also have two grandsons, Jeffrey Delong and Eric Carpenter.

In addition to her nightly walking, Delong stays active by bowling every Wednesday night. She says as long as her health allows, she will continue being active.

"I don’t feel old; and if you don’t feel old, you’re not old," she says.

As for collecting for the March of Dimes, Delong says she wouldn’t be able to do what she has been able to do without the support of the community.

"I just want to thank everyone in South Point," she said. "They are so giving and so nice…it just makes you feel good.

"I think about all the little babies who are helped by the March of Dimes – I think about the money I collect and what it can do to help them. That’s what keeps me going."