Gonzalez supports “Cindy’s Walks for Recovery” fundraiser

It might not be the best year for a dollars-for-walks charity event with these free-swinging Braves, but Marietta’s Cindy Donald has an ace in the hole – the Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Donald is teaming up with Gonzalez and the Braves to raise money for her “Dreams of Recovery” foundation, which helps spinal cord and brain injury patients defray therapy and equipment costs.

“I’m going to start a lot of 3-0 takes,” Gonzalez said Thursday afternoon, shortly before greeting Donald on the field with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek.

This is a relationship Donald formed years ago with Gonzalez and his predecessor Bobby Cox and other Braves coaches who live in her Marietta neighborhood. They got to know Donald after hearing her story, that she was left paralyzed from the neck down on March 25, 2005 at age 21 after her father accidentally ran into her while she was sunbathing in their driveway.

Gonzalez, Cox, pitching coach Roger McDowell and former Braves third base coach Ned Yost all got to know her through a neighborhood group she calls the “Bagel Boys,” who meet for breakfast and helped raised money on her and her family’s behalf.

“If you see her and you go to the Shepherd (Spinal) Center, (which) we’re really close to, you see the young kids and people with spinal cord and brain injuries, it really touches you to do something,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a sad story how she got the way she is now, but it’s really a great story with what we’re doing and what she’s doing.”

Gonzalez has helped raise money at an annual magic show and auction for her foundation, but now Donald is looking for a way to take it to the next level. Her goals are to help patients nationally and she aims to raise $15,000 for each person who needs therapy his or her insurer doesn’t cover. She said there’s already a waiting list of 40 people.

Donald said she was first thinking about doing “home runs for recovery” but decided later on walks, in honor of her friend Drew Siebert, a gastroenterologist from Gwinnett County. Years after suffering a spinal cord injury, he was able to get up and walk. The foundation has shot a commercial with Gonzalez walking Siebert down to first base.

When asked where she got the strength to turn something so negative into positive, Donald said she was inspired by the “Bagel Boys.”

“It made me realize how many good genuine people are out there,” Donald said. “And if I’m able to help somebody else like they were able to help me, it really makes me feel better about myself.”

Her father Jerry Donald said she inspires him by her tireless work for the foundation.

“As a father it just makes me proud to see her being successful and doing something good to help people that need it,” Jerry Donald said. “…She’s never been bitter. She’s never blamed me even though I would think she would. It keeps me going because she’s so positive.”

For information on "Cindy's Walks for Recovery," go to www.dreamsofrecovery.org or call 770-675-6565.