HERO Walk draws 2,000 to Ocean City Boardwalk

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Over 2,000 participants showed up for the HERO Walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk Sunday, Oct. 14 Over 2,000 participants showed up for the HERO Walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk Sunday, Oct. 14

OCEAN CITY — More than 2,000 participants hit the Ocean City boardwalk for the second annual HERO Walk on Sunday, Oct. 14.

The “Be a Hero, Be a Designated Driver” event benefitted the HERO Campaign, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing drunk driving by promoting the use of designated drivers.

“It’s a beautiful day, and we’re thrilled with the turnout,” said Muriel Elliott, HERO Campaign co-founder. “So many people, it really makes me feel good that so many people are telling their friends and encouraging others to come and support this.”

“It’s amazing, how this has caught on,” she said.

In the 12 years since it started, the HERO Campaign has expanded to five states, appearing on billboards, television commercials and at professional sports stadiums, including MetLife and Citizens Bank Park.

Craig Keyser, a human resources consultant who works with the campaign, said the Elliotts have done an “incredible job” honoring their son John Elliott’s legacy.

“It was such a tragedy, and they are so committed to preventing what happened to them from happening to someone else,” he said. “It’s a great thing and it’s really paid off as far as saving lives. To see hundreds of college and high school students here is phenomenal.”

The HERO Campaign was established in memory of Muriel and Bill Elliot’s son, Navy Ensign John Elliott, who lost his life to a drunken driver in July 2000. John Elliott had graduated two months earlier from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he was named the outstanding HERO (Human Education Resource Officer) of his class.

Bill Elliott, chairman of the HERO Campaign, said the event raised over $125,000 for the HERO Campaign.

“We’re excited about this, it really warms our hearts,” he said. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare; every life saved is one less tragedy.”

The repetitive message of encouraging designated driving has caught on.

“We had 100 teams and 100 volunteers,” he said. “This shows that people agree with the message and they want to be involved.”

Elliott said the Campaign does not pass judgment on drinking. The message, he said, is aimed at those who drink and get behind the wheel.

“If you’re drinking, make sure you have a ride home,” he said. “It’s not how much you drink, it’s the fact that you don’t drink and drive. Use the buddy system, be the life of the party, be the designated driver.”

The campaign asks that those who are interested sign a pledge, to “Be a HERO, be a designated driver.”

“Our goal is to register one million designated drivers,” he said. “We go to where the people are drinking, on college campuses, in bars. We ask that bars and taverns offer a wristband to the designated driver and provide free soft drinks.”

“I’d like to think that the war against drunk drivers is going to be won by designated drivers. That message works, and if people follow through, we can prevent future drunken driving tragedies. It’s through these people here, 2,000 people who came out on a Sunday morning. If we can stop smoking in public places and get people to wear seatbelts, we can end drunken driving,” Elliot said.

Students from Ocean City High School and Intermediate School were recruited to participate in the event and they did not disappoint. Several school teams and clubs were registered; others participated with their families.

It has long been a goal of the HERO Campaign to attract a young audience, in an effort to instill the importance of a designated driver.

“High school and college-aged students are the perfect population for this message; they understand it and respond. They don’t see it as preaching. They realize that it is very important to have someone take you home, not to drink and drive. It’s a simple message that could have a positive impact, change behavior and save lives,” Elliot said.

People understand that drinking and driving is against the law, he said, yet they still do it.

Alcohol-related crashes cause about 200 deaths per year in New Jersey, accounting for 32 percent of all traffic fatalities, Elliot said. He believes that drunken driving deaths would virtually disappear overnight if everyone enlisted the help of a designated driver.

Michele Barbieri, who serves on both the Upper Township and Ocean City school boards, said she wouldn’t miss the event as the message of the campaign is one she fully supports.

“My family is big on community service, we like to do things to help other people,” she said.

“The Elliotts have worked so hard to raise awareness and we are proud to do whatever we can to help,” she said. “I’m very proud of the Upper Township and Ocean City students and parents and friends who either walked or volunteered. You’re proud of your community when you see an outpouring like this.”

photos by Cindy Nevitt

Over 2,000 participants showed up for the HERO Walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk Sunday, Oct. 14 Over 2,000 participants showed up for the HERO Walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk Sunday, Oct. 14

Over 2,000 participants showed up for the HERO Walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk Sunday, Oct. 14 Over 2,000 participants showed up for the HERO Walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk Sunday, Oct. 14


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