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Melissa VanSchelt celebrated her ninth birthday Saturday afternoon by inviting four friends to walk 6.2 miles for the cause of cystic fibrosis.

Erin Thornock, 9, explained that the genetic killer is a "disease in your lungs." John C. Fremont Elementary students earned more than $1,000 in pledges for the walk-a-thon, and 40 Fremont students joined the walk, said Principal John Erlacher. Erlacher was manning the jogging stroller for CF sufferer Brody Anderson, 10, a Fremont fourth-grader.Some 300 Salt Lake walkers gathered under a festive balloon arch in the University of Utah's Research Park, joining in the national "Great Strides for a CF Cure" effort. Money raised from weekend activities throughout the country will be divided among the 12 cystic fibrosis research centers, including the center at the University of Utah.

The disease, of which 20 million Americans are carriers, is the No. 1 genetic killer of children and young adults. It affects sufferers' digestive and respiratory systems. Treatment includes chest pounding to clear respiratory secretions, termed chest-percussion therapy.

The Utah walkers were led across the starting line by a kilted bagpipe band, and welcomed back to the finish line by a rock band. "This is what is cool about our walk-a-thon," said Sanford Barrett, special events chairman for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. "Where else can you get traditional bagpipe music and good old fashioned rock-and-roll all at one event?"