It might not have been a perfect day for a walk along the river, but the rainy weather didn't bring down the spirits of those taking part in the 17th Annual Lupus Loop Run/Walk, chaired by Steelers guard Willie Colon, on Pittsburgh's North Shore on Saturday.
"It's a beautiful day," said Colon. "For people to come out and show support is a blessing in itself. Lupus doesn't get the awareness it deserves and hopefully this helps."
Individuals and groups came out to support friends and family who suffer from the disease, as well as to raise awareness and funds for the Lupus Foundation.
"We are very happy. Willie has been a great help with all of the promotion and help he has provided," said Deborah Nigro, Executive Director of Pittsburgh's Lupus Foundation. "Willie has brought such amazing attention to what we are doing. So many more people are aware thanks to him stepping up."
Colon has been involved with the Lupus Loop since his rookie season, doing it to support his mother Jean Davis, who was diagnosed in 1989. His family came out to take part and support the walk, and to celebrate the fact that Davis' health is improving. After undergoing dialysis three times a week, she is down to one day a week and hoping in the next few months she will no longer need it.
"I look forward to this every year," said Davis, who comes in from the Bronx, New York to participate. "I enjoy it very much.
"I am so proud of Willie taking part. A lot of people his age, young people, don't understand the disease. I am so proud of him. It's awesome."
His Steelers' family also shows their support. Last week his fellow offensive linemen joined him at the Outback Steakhouse for an autograph signing to benefit the foundation, and on Saturday Ramon Foster joined him as an official starter of the race.
"He has done this for a long time to help his mom out," said Foster. "Rain, snow or shine we would be out here supporting it. His persistence shows how much it's grown. It's a big event and they are working hard to help find something to cure lupus."
Nigro said since Colon's involvement the Lupus Foundation in Pittsburgh has definitely gotten more attention, something that she helps ultimately will help researchers find a cure.
"Like all small non-profits we struggle with individuals supporting it," said Nigro. "Willie's involvement has made it grow immensely and brought awareness for those who suffer.
He has been really committed. We can't thank him enough. What he has done to help this grow is amazing."
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can attack any organ in the body. An estimated 1.5 million Americans suffer from the disease, and after watching his mother suffer from it as a child he wants to do whatever he can to help others fighting the battle.
"When I hear little kids testimonies saying they are happy that I do this, it means a lot to me," said Colon. "I was one of those kids. I grew up with my mother suffering from it and I know what they are going through and what they have to endure. My heart goes out to them."