Over 500 participants gathered downtown on Saturday morning for the Start! Santa Barbara Heart Walk to work on the prevention and treatment of the county’s number one cause of death.

A community fundraiser sponsored by the American Heart Association, event coordinators hosted the walk at Chase Palm Park Pavilion in hopes of raising $180,000 for heart disease education. Participants walked 5.1 kilometers listening to music from KRUZ-FM 97.5 and speeches from community members battling heart disease. Despite expectations, donations totaled to $143,000 after the event’s conclusion.

Eric Thompson, the marketing director for the AHA, has walked at the event since 1999 and said both his grandfather and father have undergone open-heart surgery.

“It’s a family matter, so it’s very close to home,” he said.

Keynote speaker Carrie Robinson, who started having chest problems at age 31 and underwent double bypass surgery after finding out that she had a 100 percent blocked artery, gave an opening address about the importance of caring for your heart.

“I couldn’t walk more than fifty feet without having major chest pains. I had always been healthy, too.” Robinson said. “I loved to hike, ride my bike and exercise.”

Participant Daniel Rodriguez said he was making the trek because heart health was a topic close to home. His father died of a heart attack, Rodriguez said, and he felt it was crucial that other people did not have the same fate.

“Exercise is the easiest way for us to fight health issues,” Rodriguez said.

Thompson said the Heart Walk was an excellent event for people of all demographics and creeds, evidencing Robinson’s story as a note of warning for the apparently healthy.

“It’s a true community event,” Thompson said. “We don’t get a lot of media coverage, and we are always trying to raise awareness.”