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Fundraiser takes back the path Participants brave weather to encourage use of exercise trail after slaying in Newstead

Three hundred people braved rain, wind and temperatures in the 40s to raise money for several charities Saturday during an event called Walk for the World.

But as they moved from the Clarence Soccer Center onto the Clarence Center Bike Path to begin the 3-mile-round trip, they also took a step for womankind.

Part of their mission was to "redeem the Clarence Bike Path" in memory of Joan Diver, the Clarence mother of four who was murdered last September while jogging on that path in Newstead, said Michele Bjorkman, communications director of Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church, which sponsored the fundraiser.

After Diver's death, many women who used the Clarence Bike Path, which runs through Clarence and Newstead a few miles south of the Clarence Center Bike Path, were reluctant to return, Bjorkman said.

Even the arrest of Altemio Sanchez, who has been linked to that case and several others known as the Bike Path Rapes, did not change their minds. The church, Bjorkman said, feels the time has come for them to put their running shoes back on and enjoy the outdoors.

"Our message is: Put faith before fear," Bjorkman said as bundled-up participants returned from the walk-a-thon to a tent on the soccer field, where they warmed up on hot dogs and bluegrass music.

"One of our purposes was emotional," added the Rev. Karl Eastlack, who led a prayer for the Diver family before walkers set off on the trek to Salt Road and back.

Several measures have been taken to improve bike path safety since the Diver killing, including police bicycle patrols and a buddy system that encourages women to walk or jog with a partner.

Exercise, but "be smart about it," Bjorkman advised.

Church leaders expected Walk for the World to raise about $30,000 "to benefit literally four corners of the world." Proceeds will go to Buffalo City Mission's Cornerstone Manor, an emergency shelter for women and children; the tsunami-stricken Sri Lankan village of Navalkuda, which Eastern Hills Wesleyan is rebuilding; and an irrigation project to assist orphans in AIDS-decimated Chabboboma, Zambia.


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