Although one of the hallmark results of Multiple Sclerosis is the body being rendered unable to move, you wouldn't assume that by watching the 400 some people line up for the Northern Chautauqua Walk MS held Sunday morning at Russell Joy Park in Fredonia.
More than 20 teams, some with over 100 teammates, including those diagnosed with MS and their supporters, gathered at the park under bright sunshine to help drive research toward finding an MS cure. Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe officially proclaimed May 20 as National MS Day in the Village of Fredonia, just prior to stepping off with the walkers to make the trek with his wife.
Janice Johnson, chairwoman for Team Kolassa rallied 15 members for a team to walk in support of Tom Kolassa, who has been dealing with his illness for nine years.
OBSERVER?Photo by Ann Belcher
More than 40 members of Debbie's Dream Team, sponsored by the John W. Dill American Legion Post Family in Brocton, pose for their team photo Sunday at the Northern Chautauqua Walk MS held at Russell Joy Park. The Dream Team helped add to the more than $27,000 raised at Sunday's event.
"It was very easy to find people to walk with us everybody loves Tom."
Her hopes for the day's event match the mission of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which is to conduct more research to combat what she describes as "really, a faceless disease."
According to a press release from Walk committee members, Deb Harriger and Eileen Baldridge both fighters of the disease themselves, MS interrupts the flow of information from the brain to the body and stops a person from moving. It's estimated that someone receives an MS diagnosis each hour in the United States, adding to the growing numbers of men and woman with the central nervous system disorder. Because Upstate New York has one of the highest rates of MS in the entire nation (second only to Seattle, Washington) Harriger and Baldridge note that everyone "probably knows someone with Multiple Sclerosis."
Johnson's "Team Kolassa," a tight-knit support system for Tom, chose to wear orange T-shirts for Sunday's walk. Orange is the official color of the National MS Society.
Unique and colorful tie-dyed shirts were donned by "Nic's Pics" teammates for wife and mother of two, Nichole Stearns, who was diagnosed last year.
Stearns explained her frustration with dealing with the many symptoms associated with MS and having them explained away by doctors as stemming from other conditions.
"I have a lot of fatigue, 'brain fog,' and I'm a mother of two small children, ages six and two, and that's really the hardest part is that it's getting harder to take care of them," explained Stearns.
Typical and obvious symptoms of the disease range from general numbness and tingling in the extremities to the more serious symptom, paralysis.
"For anyone who may even think they're having symptoms of MS, I would just advise them to get checked out, just for the peace of mind. I've gone for years with weird, unexplained symptoms that I would go to a doctor for, and they would tell me 'Oh, it could be this, or it could be that.' Some of my symptoms were explained as carpel tunnel syndrome, aging, acid reflux. Until one hot day, my body just overheated, and I lost vision and feeling in my left arm. It was at that point that I knew for sure something more was wrong," said Stearns.
The walk featured kid-friendly activities like face painting, and balloon creations from The Paper Factory's "Balloon Crew," as well as a fundraising auction. Water was on hand for all who made the walking route under the hot sun. Bagels from Panera Bread were provided, as well as: yogurt from Chobani; coffee from Tim Horton's; and juice and orange drink from COTT Corporation and McDonald's. Gary D'Amico of P & G Foods had his popular hot dog stand in full operation with donations from Sahlen's.
Webb's Captain's Table Restaurant, Robo Enterprises North and Fredonia Food Mart & Deli also contributed to the picnic lunch for the walk. Volunteers from the local HAM Radio organization were placed along walk routes as communications. Brian Boedo of B & B Entertainment and Dan Palmer of WDOE also provided coverage and entertainment.
Stearns summed up the entire goal of Sunday's event with emotion by saying "Events like this really give people hope just to see how many people are out here today to help find a cure. I think we raised about $1,700 today and hope really is the best medicine we can have. And with that hope I know they will find a cure."
Organizer Jenny Sullivan was pleased to announce this year's walk exceeded its goal of $26,500, raising more than $27,000 to fight MS.
"We've had a lot of help from the community. We couldn't have done without all of the wonderful donations - so many people were here today to make this a success, from the mayor, to the HAM radio operators, our deejay, and especially all of the hardworking committee members who work year round to make it successful."
Sullivan was also pleased with the weather conditions for the walk, noting last year's event featured heavy rain and freezing temperatures.