Joe Smith wanted to finish the 3 1/2 -mile AIDSWALK '91.
Since testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus in 1985, his health has been getting worse; yesterday he finished the course in a wheelchair with friends pushing him through the Guilford, Canterbury-Tuscany and Charles Village neighborhoods.
"This is a personal triumph for me because this may be my last walk," Mr. Smith said after crossing the finish line of colorful balloons to the cheers of his friends.
As many as 7,000 people participated in the fourth annual walk, which started and ended at the Johns Hopkins University's Garland Field. They raised more than $300,000 in pledges for the Health Education Resource Organization and other AIDS service groups.
Mr. Smith, a nurse who worked in AIDS research until the effects of the virus became too severe, said people needed to be taught how to protect themselves from the infection.
"There is an increased awareness of AIDS, and there is hope on the horizon," he said. "There is a lot of community support, but there needs to be more."
On June 5, 1981, the first cases of what were called "gay cancer" -- later identified as acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
About 110,500 people have died from complications brought on by AIDS.
Another million Americans may be infected with HIV, which destroys the body's defenses against disease and leaves it vulnerable to a host of infections and cancers.
By the year 2000, 40 million people may be infected worldwide.
Maryland now has about 3,500 reported cases of AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
AIDS has triggered national concern and fear, but the AIDSWALK brought a demonstration of compassion.
"More lives have been touched. People realize that this isn't a gay disease and that it's affecting every lifestyle," said Lee Smith, a nurse who has brought a friend, Joe Smith, home to live with him. "He needed more care and to be with his friends."
Yesterday's AIDSWALK had the largest turnout since its origin in 1988, when 600 people participated.
In 1989, more than 2,400 people participated, and last year that number more than doubled.
The support of the community is needed so that more effort can be put into finding a cure and preventing the spread of AIDS, said Bill Urban, a member of the event's steering committee.
"I'm hopeful as long as there is support and research that people like me will be able to stay alive," said Mr. Urban. "When I tested HIV positive [in 1987], I was told that I would have a life expectancy of eight-to-14 months."
People walked yesterday to express that hope and fulfill promises made to those who have died from complications brought on by AIDS, said John Bunting, the AIDSWALK '91 chairman.
"I kept a promise to do something after my friends died," he said. "That same promise has been made and kept by people all across Baltimore."