SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- It was a walk in the park for Westmont Baseball - all for a good cause. Last Saturday 42 players and four coaches participated in the American Heart Association's Heart Walk in Chase Palm Park along the Santa Barbara waterfront.
The team raised $1,585 for the Heart Association, exceeding their original goal by more than 50 percent. This is the second year that the team has participated in the event.
"I was really happy to see our team get excited about serving and giving back," said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. "Each of our players signed up and raised money by talking with peers on campus, faculty and their families."
The team was first introduced to the idea through Heidi Cougoule, wife of assistant coach Tony Cougoule.
"Heidi got us hooked up with the Heart Walk, but it was hard to put a face to it," explained Cougoule. "Then Coach (Greg) Venzor said, 'I know a face to put on this.'"
That is when the team met Rudy Geylings, a nearly five-year-old with a lot of energy, and a heart condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS).
Rudy is an inspiration to our team," said Ruiz. "He came to one of our practices and his parents (Rolf and Trisha Geylings) told us about his condition. He inspired us and we wanted to get involved in the Heart Walk to support Rudy and others we know who have been affected by heart disease.
"Rudy has hung out at a few practices and games," continued Ruiz. "We tried to hook him up with some gear. He wears it for a few minutes but he likes to throw the hat. He is full of energy and he is an awesome kid. Our guys love him and his story has been inspiring to us. It has been a blessing to hear his family's perspective of their faith and how this has impacted them."
"Our team has become the kick-off team," said Cougoule about Saturday's Heart Walk. "Our guys lead everyone in stretching and provide the energy at the start of the walk. They get the whole crowd involved. To see them smiling and enjoying themselves off the field and bonding together is very special."
"Rudy has a tent where our guys got balloons that are his favorite color and put on Rudy bracelets and Hawaiian leis to represent Rudy," said Ruiz. "It is interesting for 40 college baseball players to have to walk a 5K. Some of them joked about wanting to run, but we said, 'No, let's just soak it up.' It is a cool team bonding experience to be part of a community with individuals from different organizations supporting a good cause."