Gay father-son duo Robert and Johnson Swafford work together as fundraisers and volunteers for LifeWalk, which turns 22 Sunday
Robert Swafford hasn’t walked the traditional 5K LifeWalk route from Lee Park, but he’s certainly walked dozens of miles for the AIDS Arms Inc. event.
Swafford, a member of the LifeWalk steering committee, works on route logistics, stocking water stations and placing cones before the event — and picking them up at the end. He’ll have the same job this year.
“I usually walk the route three or four times during the day because the route is my responsibility, so I’m on the route all day long. I’m just not in the park,” he said. “We end up circling the route several times a day.”
Swafford, who’s gay, got involved with LifeWalk after attending an AIDS Arms video screening a few years ago. He said the experience moved him so much that he spoke to the executive director about volunteering for the organization. He was then introduced to LifeWalk organizers.
Swafford also got his son Johnson, who’s also gay, to volunteer with the event, and the two now look forward to fundraising throughout the year.
“It was a way for us to have an activity to do together, and he wanted to become involved and help me out,” Robert Swafford said. “We both get a lot out of it. It’s a lot of hard work on the day of. It’s a lot of time throughout the year of planning and getting ready but you walk away from that day exhausted but feeling great about what you’ve accomplished.”
Johnson Swafford said he attended LifeWalk’s Waterpalooza event two years ago as a spectator and was asked to stand in as a referee. He had so much fun he decided to join his father in the event planning, and he said working side-by-side with dad was a bonus.
“We’ve always made a great team,” he said. “It’s doubly fun to do it with someone who I work very well up against. We know each other’s limits and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we tend to complement each other pretty well.”
He said he enjoys walking the route with his dad throughout the day and will join him again this year, though there’ll be a small change.
Marvin Green, co-chair of LifeWalk, said this year’s event will have the same route but will start and end in Lee Park instead of on the street, so more people will be able to watch and cheer on participants who finish. A DJ will also play music throughout the event, and 45 vendors will set up in the park. He said about 400,000 walkers are expected this year, compared to last year’s 300,000.
Green said fundraising had exceeded $330,000 as of Wednesday, Oct. 3, adding that teams are on track to raise the fundraising goal of $450,000.
“There shouldn’t be a reason we don’t make the goal,” he said, adding that his personal goal was to help the event bring in $500,000.
He said the total could still reach that because many donations come in during the final days before the walk and companies contribute after because they match donations for teams.
Robert Swafford said he and his son also fundraise for the walk, adding that he enjoys helping AIDS Arms and their partner agencies benefit with donations, as well as his volunteering.
“Those funds go to the agency and the agency is saving lives with everything that they do,” he said. “It’s a personal feel-good.”
The pair’s involvement in LifeWalk has brought them closer to the community, which has come to rely on them as resources because of their connection with the event.
“I’ve been able to get help for people through the agency because they know I’m connected,” Robert Swafford said.
“They know I’m involved. They come to me as a resource. It’s because people know I’m involved in LifeWalk.”
Both Robert and Johnson Swafford plan to stay involved with LifeWalk for many years to come, remaining their own team until time or distance divides them. “As long as him and I are in the same city, state, then we’ll definitely be giving our time over and having a lot of fun doing it in the meantime,” Johnson said.
22nd annual LifeWalk
LifeWalk begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at Lee Park, 3333 Turtle Creek Blvd.
People can register up until the time of the walk starting at 11 a.m. For more info,
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 5, 2012.