Read the article and check out the amazing photos in the Tampa Bay Online HERE.
By Cheryl Kluck
PLANT CITY - Scott James figured if he was going to take part in the High Heel Hike – on the Girls Gone Wild team no less – he'd have some fun with it.
The Publix employee donned a yellow pair of heels and joined dozens of women who walked around McCall Park to raise money for the fight against autism. He wasn't the only man who took part but he was the only one who wore the feminine footwear.
"I only did this to help raise funds for autism but it was fun and the heels were not too hard to hike in," he said.
Having fun for a serious cause was all part of the June 12 High Heel Hike around downtown. The event raised about $18,000 and awareness for autism and for Generation Rescue. The rescue organization finances autism research and prevention programs and helps needy parents provide treatment to autistic children.
The High Heel Hikes, being held in a dozen cities across the nation, are in their seventh year. The fundraisers were founded and organized by Jules Burt, a Plant City artist known as the Pop Art Diva.
Burt gained lasting fame when her signature coffee mugs were used on the long-running television series, "Friends." Her colorful and wildly endearing pop artworks reportedly appear in the collections of the rich and famous including Madonna and Elton John.
"I was amazed to discover that autism is the No. 1 diagnosis in children. I just knew there were plenty of mom-divas with kids who are ready to be warriors against this disease. This year we are hiking nationally. Next year, I plan to go world-wide," Burt said.
Hikers of all ages strapped on their heels in blistering 93-degree weather for a circuitous trek around downtown that started and finished at McCall Park. The participants raised money beforehand with fundraisers and by soliciting pledges and donations.
From the beautiful to the bizarre, costumed individuals and teams playfully strutted their stuff, parading in the park and posing for photos.
Shelly Cate went all out for the walk. But she was so unsteady on the 8-inch platform stiletto heels she bought at a resale shop for the fundraiser that she took a tumble. She ended up with torn jeans and a skinned knee, but received recognition for completing the one-kilometer hike wearing the highest heels.
Girls Gone Wild hiker Janet Bocknor's zebra bow-trimmed shoes were voted the most creative shoes. The Girls Gone Wild team, sponsored by Central Florida Tax Service, took its name from their clothing and accessories featuring animal prints.
"Next year, we're going to be event sponsors and work at fundraising all year. We believe in this cause," tax service Office Manager Sherry Edenfield said.
Peter Murphy, an Orlando television host, served as master of ceremonies. Several companies fielded teams, including the Fred's Market Diva's, Florida Pediatric Center's The Golden Girls and Central Florida Construction Co.'s Demolition Divas.
Corporate sponsors included Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Bartow Chevrolet, National Watermelon Promotion Board, Little Black Dress, Red Rose Inn and Suites, radio stations Mix 100.7, and US103.5, 717 South, All about Graphics, Positive Impact Magazine, Florida Virtual Schools and Zepp Strategic Partners.
Three hikers were named princess, teen queen and queen based on the money they raised.
Three-year-old McKenzie Garretts was named princess for the $1,200 she raised through garage sales with her mother Andrea.
McKenzie Barnett, a 12-year-old on the Girls Gone Wild team, was named teen queen for raising more than $1,600 through fundraisers that included bake sales and yard sales.
The queen's title went to Annie Carapezza of the Demolition Divas, who with her daughter Jen raised a High Heel Hike record, more than $6,000.
Carapezza was crowned queen by Deena Rivera, who was queen of the Tampa High Heel Hike. Rivera, whose team was known as the Warriors Against Autism, said the cause was personal.
Her 9-year-old son Anthony has been diagnosed with autism. Her husband Olando, also known as The Warrior, is the five-time world-super light heavyweight kick-boxing champion and teaches physical fitness to children and adults. "We will continue to be warriors in the battle to find the cause and cure for autism, the warrior team will continue working toward the goal of greater donations in 2011," Rivera said.
Carapezza said she plans to help fundraising in other cities holding High Heel Hikes.
"Our divas are going to every city. Our goal is to raise a minimum of $10,000 per city for Generation Rescue," Carapezza said.
More and more cities have expressed an interest in having High Heel Hikes, Burt said.
"They've all got a long way to go to beat my hometown of Plant City," she said. "Still, by far, the most charitable."