Photo of  welcome sign at Hayward Primary

Only 2,000 or so folks live in Hayward, Wisc., which is located in a remote area of the state known for fishing and lumberjack competitions.

It’s probably not the first place you think of when it comes to fighting heart disease, but Hayward is rapidly making a national name for itself doing just that. The little town last year became one of the top five fundraisers in the country for the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope For Heart program.

This year, Hayward is aiming for No. 1

“Last year we almost hit the $50,000 mark and this year we are going to reach even higher,” said Jump Rope For Heart coordinator Dave Dixon. “In the 35-year history of Jump Rope For Heart events, there never has been a single event that raised over $100,000, so this year, we are going to do it and how cool – we get to help save even more lives than we did last year.”

Thursday, Hayward’s primary and intermediate schools held their jump rope events and raised $75,000, and they intend to reach their $100,000 goal in the spring.

Photo of Cole and Kylah Eckes and Dave Dixon

Cole and Kylah Eckes and Dave Dixon

Dixon, also Hayward primary school’s physical education teacher, district track coach and assistant football and women’s hockey coach, is dedicated to the goal for very personal reasons. A few years ago his daughter Katelyn, 22, was treated for an abnormal heart rhythm. His mother has survived a heart attack and triple bypass surgery.

“Somewhere at some Jump Rope For Heart somebody donated $50 and saved my mother’s life,” Dixon said.

Jump Rope For Heart is a national educational fundraising program sponsored by the American Heart Association and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. The average amount a school raises through a program like Jump Rope For Heart is about $2,000.

Funds raised through Jump Rope For Heart go to research and educational programs to prevent and treat heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer.

Jumping individually or as teams, students ask friends and family for donations. In Hayward, located about 75 miles southeast of Duluth, Minn., the entire community is behind the campaign and helping raise funds alongside the students. That’s something not typically seen with other Jump Rope For Heart programs.

Photo of Cole and Tara 2011

Cole and Tara 2011

Photo of Tara Eckes, Hayward Primary

Tara Eckes, Hayward Primary

The Eckes family is very involved after experiencing the impact of heart disease firsthand. First-grader Tara is jumping  for her 3-year-old brother Cole, who was born with a rare heart tumor. Cole had his first cardiac arrest at 7 months old, when his father Zac saved his life with CPR and a shock from an automated external defibrillator. Cole survived another cardiac arrest while hospitalized and had surgery at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis to remove the tumor.

Tara’s mother, Kylah, a school counselor at Hayward High School, backs the Jump Rope For Heart effort.

“I truly feel as though this is one way we can help the American Heart Association advance its work,” said Eckes. “During Cole’s heart surgery and recovery we met numerous families going through similar heart situations. Many live day to day in fear that they will lose their child. And some had already lost their child. We are so thankful for things like CPR, the AED that saved Cole and his trained doctors that saved his heart. Because of that we – he – gets to live a normal life.”

Support Tara Eckes and Dave Dixon, part of the Hayward Jump Rope For Heart effort.

Hayward welcome photo courtesy of  Lindsay Scheidell; slide show photo of Eckes family courtesy of the Ronald McDonald House; other photos courtesy of Kylah Eckes.