City leader Gary Price to don stilettos for charity race

Naples City Councilman Gary Price

Naples City Councilman Gary Price

— City Councilman Gary Price needs a pair of high heels.

Men’s size 13 heels, to be exact.

Price is one of dozens of Neapolitans expected to run in a stiletto sprint in downtown Naples on Friday. The sprint down Park Street is intended to raise money for the Garden of Hope and Courage and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

“With our family history of spending time in the hospital with our son ... it is near and dear to our heart,” Price said about the Garden of Hope and Courage. “All of those things cloud what good judgment can be.”

Price said he told event organizers if they could raise $10,000 — and scrounge up a pair of men’s size 13 high heels — he would run in the sprint. And event organizers say they’re well on their way to achieving that $10,000 goal.

The race will begin at the Cambier Park ball field sign on Park Street and end near the Cambier Park alley on Park Street. That’s just a few blocks, and is right off of Fifth Avenue South.

Lisa Swirda, executive director of the Downtown Naples Association and an event organizer, said representatives with both organizations approached her earlier this year asking if they could host a joint event on Fifth Avenue South to raise money for their organizations. Last year events were held throughout the month of October on Third Street South, and organizers wanted to spread the love to another popular Naples street.

Swirda said she immediately thought of a stiletto sprint — runners need to wear heels 2 inches or higher to be eligible for prizes — and it took off from there.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Amy Lane, executive director of the Garden of Hope and Courage. “It’s something that just over the summer we talked about. It’s the beginning of October. I don’t think we thought it would get as much attention as it has.”

The buzz grew over Facebook and by word of mouth, but things got even crazier when, on Sept. 2, Swirda and her team found out that Price was interested in running.

“I called him and said ‘I’m just speechless and it’s wonderful,’” Swirda said. “I’ll do what it take for the cause, I just hope I can get size 13 shoes.”

Price said he didn’t hesitate to accept the request to run when a friend asked. He joked recently, though, that he didn’t think the group would be able to come up with the shoes.

At 6 feet, 6 inches, Price said running in high heels is “probably not going to be pretty” and he’s making sure to buy plenty of safety gear — including knee pads and a helmet — for when he starts to run.

But don’t expect to find the Moorings resident jogging down Fifth Avenue South in stilettos anytime soon. While he’s getting ready for the race by playing tennis and running, he said he has no intention of practicing in stilettos before the Oct. 1 race.

“My motto in life is you have to laugh, (and this is a chance) for the community to get together and have fun,” he said.

It’s also a change to raise money for two worthy causes, said Swirda. The Garden of Hope and Courage is located on 2 ½ acres on the corner of Eighth Street and Second Avenue North. The garden, which opened in October 2006, was built in memory of Jan Emfield and is meant to treat the whole body — mind, body and spirit.

Emfield died of breast cancer in 1994, making the connection between the garden and Susan G. Komen for the Cure a natural, said Lane.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists striving to save lives. The organization serves as the largest source of nonprofit funds to fight breast cancer.

The Southwest Florida affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure was established in 2002.

Miriam Ross, its executive director, said her group is “really excited” about the race.

“I feel like this is growing its own legs,” Ross said.

But it’s not just the race that has people excited. There’s also the after party on Fifth Avenue South that has Neapolitans buzzing.

Last year Third Street South’s trademark tree was lit in pink lights throughout the month of October, which is breast cancer awareness month. This year those twinkling pink lights will cover the trees in Sugden Plaza on Fifth Avenue South.

Ross said recently the Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall would be on hand to flip the switch with Naples Mayor Bill Barnett.

“It was one of those times where everything came together and aligned at the right time,” Barnett said.

The Rockettes, who are in town as part of a publicity tour, will do a short performance in the plaza before turning on the lights.

Swirda said she’s received lots of donations for the event, but registration, as of earlier this month, was fairly low. She said she expected lots of walk-up registration the day of the event.

And while Price is one of the only notable names currently registered for the event, Councilwoman Teresa Heitmann has jokingly said she to would enter the race if she could find sponsors.

Registration is $20, which also gets runners into a cocktail part at Cafe Lurcat following the race. Runners who raise $40 or more will receive a T-shirt.

Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/

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