Arthritis is a disease that affects over 250,000 Manitobans. On June 8, people from around the Keystone Province will walk in the Walk to Fight Arthritis, including three who would like to see the "invisible disease" brought out into the open.
The Walk to Fight Arthritis, which takes place at Assiniboine Park this year, has three ambassadors: Kelsey Forrest, Russell Listmayer and Wanda Guenette. All are different, yet all have one thing in common.
Forrest, 9, was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of three after experiencing swelling and pain in her ankle. For Forrest, the support from her friends and teachers at Beaverlodge School has been extraordinary and her penchant for extracurricular activities helps her keep the disease at bay.
Listmayer, like Forrest, was diagnosed at an early age. Like a lot of young Canadians, he enjoys playing hockey. At 12 years of age, Listmayer has been living with arthritis since the age of five and says it affects his ability to play sports.
Listmayer, a West Kildonan resident, is a warrior on and off the ice. His arthritis has manifested itself as joint pain and uveitis, an inflammation of the eye that has caused him further complications. Listmayer has had no less than 10 surgeries to help protect and heal his eyes.
"It has affected my ability to do things," says Listmayer, "but I am usually training and I just try my best and try to not worry about it."
Forrest, like Listmayer stays active to help combat the effects of the disease.
"It doesn’t really affect me because I stay active and I try to be in as many activities as I can," says Forrest, who will participate in her third walk this year.
Both Listmayer and Forrest are looking forward to the walk and will be flanked by friends and family on event day. Both also conceded they are looking forward to a couple of the post-walk activities.
"Getting a massage after," Listmayer says, "and playing on the bouncy castle."
Forrest is in the same boat, though for a couple different attractions.
"Face painting and balloons," she says. "It’s a lot of fun."
The story of Wanda Guenette differs from both Forrest and Russell’s insofar as she only recently received a diagnosis.
Guenette, 51, is a former professional volleyball player, having participated in the Pan-Am Games, Volleyball World Cups and the Olympic Games. She now deals with rheumatoid arthritis after first feeling its effects back in 2009 at the World Masters Games in Sydney, Australia.
"I came back from Australia in 2010 and went to see a doctor, I wasn’t feeling right, it felt like all my fingers were sprained. My joints in my hands were all swollen," says Guenette, who soon after was given the diagnosis.
A second opinion from a doctor in Australia gave Guenette hope, however, and soon after that she was back working out.
"I had seen a doctor in Vancouver and then a rheumatologist who said I wouldn’t be able to play volleyball anymore," she said. "So I went back to work in Australia and saw a specialist there who said with the right medication and exercising I could get back to doing sports."
And that she did, winning her third gold medal at the World Masters Games last summer.
That was my goal," Guenette said. "I wanted to make a three-peat with a gold medal and my partner and I did. It was very emotional, it was probably the most I had ever put into playing."
Guenette, who will walk in the event for the first time come June, wants her story to be an inspiration to others.
"I want to let people know that at 51 I am still playing, that I am still participating in my sport and training," says Guenette, who is a personal trainer by day. "I want to inspire people to get up and move."
The fifth annual Walk to Fight Arthritis will take place in 26 communities across Canada on Sun., June 8. In 2014, the walk is proud to also offer Canadians the opportunity to join a Communities in Motion event where participants can register and fundraise even if they cannot attend.
Money raised from the Walk to Fight Arthritis is used to fund, research to improve the quality of life for people living with arthritis as well as providing free educational materials and local programs, services and comprehensive, personalized assistance.
Registrations for this year’s walk at Assiniboine Park open at 8:30 a.m., with the walk beginning at 10. Those wishing to participate can register on walk day or at the Running Room at 1875 Grant Ave. on Sat., June 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information about the walk, visit http://walktofightarthritis.ca/