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Walking to eradicate an ‘everybody disease’

Kayla Coleman, left, and her cousin, Annissa, design paper bags with inspirational multiple sclerosis messages on them. The pair’s grandmother has MS. - Paul Balcerak/staff photo
Kayla Coleman, left, and her cousin, Annissa, design paper bags with inspirational multiple sclerosis messages on them. The pair’s grandmother has MS.
— image credit: Paul Balcerak/staff photo

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

It didn’t much matter why anyone came out to Klahowya Secondary School on Saturday; all that really mattered was that they were there.

Nevertheless, it was hard to find someone at Silverdale’s leg of the 19th Annual MS LifeLines Walk multiple sclerosis fund-raiser who hadn’t been touched by the disease they were walking to someday eradicate.

Thousands turned out across the state in Bellingham, Tacoma, Kennewick and several other locations to walk to raise money for those affected by multiple sclerosis.

“Every year, it gets better and better,” walk co-chair Helen Turk said. “I think, every year, it gets funner and funner.”

MS is a mysterious condition whose cause is unknown and for which a cure remains elusive. Symptoms run the gamut from blurred vision to paralysis. Despite the sometimes dire symptoms, life expectancy in MS patients is basically the same as that for those unaffected by the disease.

The National MS Society, Greater Washington Chapter, coordinated eight walks in the state on Saturday with 600 others that took place nationwide to raise money for programs and research to help those affected by MS.

But for those at Klahowya on Saturday, the walk wasn’t all about coordinated efforts, or statistics, or dollars and cents. For the most part, it was about supporting loved ones and their struggles with MS.

An ‘everybody disease’

Chris Buell, a mother living with MS, was found manning the children’s activity table in Klahowya’s commons area. Kids decorated paper bags and created hand puppets in the time leading up to the walk to pass the time.

“They’re really trying to orient it more toward the family because it’s a family disease,” Buell said. “It’s an everybody disease.”

It’s been a learning curve for Buell and her family, since she was diagnosed 10 years ago.

“When I was diagnosed, my son was five and he didn’t want to drink out of my glass because he didn’t want to catch it,” she said. “I just think there’s a lot more awareness now.”

The kids table wasn’t so much targeted toward education or awareness as using glue and sparkles to create pretty bags, but that didn’t stop most kids.

“On this side, I wrote ‘I walk for MS and I walk for my grandma,’” 10-year-old Kayla Coleman said, showing off her bag. “And then on this side I’m gonna write all the names of the people I know who have MS.”

Coleman’s grandmother is an MS sufferer, which brought Coleman and her cousin, Annissa to the walk.

“I like walking for others that have MS and just having fun,” Annissa said.

They were joined at the table by Mary Parsons and her two kids, Kasandra and Emily.

Kasandra has learned a lot about MS since Mary was diagnosed in 2000. She’s periodically attended a camp called “Getting Away from MS” to learn about her mother’s disease.

“She ends up learning more about what might happen to me than I do,” Mary said.

The more, the merrier

Near the main entrance to Klahowya, Michelle Cherry and Lynn Willmott were manning the information booth at Walk MS, checking in volunteers and occasionally signing up new recruits.

The pair estimated that they’d have about 20 to 30 new volunteers signed up by the end of the day.

Sometimes, though, people offer up a little more than just themselves.

“We had one gal who came up and said, ‘I have $900 and I want to donate it,’” Cherry said.

No word on who the mystery donor was, but Cherry and Willmott were happy to take the donation and put it to good use.

“Most of the money goes for research, research and education,” Cherry said. “Both those things are what the people need.”

“I like that folks get their support groups and their programs,” Willmott added.

Willmott has volunteered heavily with MS programs in Southern California and in Kitsap County.

“When you get MS, people can’t work anymore, they lose their jobs, there’s medical expenses...” she said.

Later on, Cherry’s daughter, Jessica, showed up in a bright green T-shirt — modest given that green shirts were reserved for volunteers and orange shirts were given to those who raised $500 or more for MS last year.

Jessica managed to come up with more than $1,500.

“I just go around and ask people, I don’t know,” Jessica said of how she came up with so much money.

“And they ask their friends,” Michelle added.

Jessica estimated spending about five hours each week fund-raising. A lot of it was done after school hours at Silverdale Elementary, where she’d ask for donations from school staffers.

“It helps others; not just her, but others,” Jessica said, in reference to her mother. “It helps the community.”

Despite her efforts, she’s not really known for them among her friends and peers.

“Some people know about it, but most people think I’m a normal kid,” Jessica said.

She’ll keep on doing it for as long as she can.

“Till I can’t do it, probably,” she said.

On the trail

Small sign boards dotted the trail leading along the roadway that takes drivers from Klahowya to Newberry Hill Road.

They reminded people “there is no cure” and “together, nothing can stand in our way.”

Inspirational, perhaps, but some appreciated it just as much that the sun shined down for what seemed like the first legit day of spring.

Diane Nelson, another MS “champion,” as Turk said, showed up with her boyfriend and grandson to show her support. But her motive for actually walking was a lot simpler.

“Well today it’s the weather,” she said.

Another walker enjoyed the heat as well, but was really just there to pitch in support.

“I’m walking for the kids and because I have a few friends who have MS and it’s about time,” Susan May said.

Taking a break

Ryan Murphy’s voice rang out to people nearing the halfway point, at the intersection of Klahowya’s driveway and Newberry Hill Road: “Welcome to the rest stop! Drink of water? Refill your water? Beef jerky?”

It was a welcome amenity for walkers, on a day when the mercury was pushing 70, even before noon.

“We’ve got a friend from my school — that’s Silverdale Elementary — and she’s got MS, which is why we do this.”

Ryan does a lot of volunteer work through the Boy Scouts, which is how the family got involved.

They’ve been volunteering at Walk MS for about three years, but “it seems like it’s more,” Roseanne said.

“Being at the rest area is the easy part,” she said. “Doing the walk and raising money is the hard part, and living with MS is even harder.”

Wrapping things up

An estimated 400 people showed up in Silverdale for Walk MS when all was said and done, MS Society Washington employee Susan Horner said. Figures on just how much was raised won’t be available for a few more weeks, however.

Turk and her husband, Dale Robinson, an MS champion himself, are thankful for some time off, for the time being, but will be ready to be back planning next year’s event in a few months.

“We talk a couple of months off in the summer and start again,” she said.

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