Over the past few months I've been working with The Arthritis Society to support a cause that is close to my heart -- the third annual Walk to Fight Arthritis. Even though more than 4.5 million Canadians suffer from arthritis, most people don't know much about it. For instance, if you think it only affects the elderly, you'd be wrong. Three out of every five people with arthritis are under 65, and one in every 1,000 children in Canada is affected by juvenile arthritis.
Diagnosed with arthritis at age two, I was one of those children. I've been lucky enough to be in remission for the majority of my life, but the impact that the disease had on me is undeniable. From inspiring me to swim across Lake Ontario at 16 years old, to my ongoing volunteer activities with The Arthritis Society, it has helped shape who I am today.
My struggle with arthritis began when I stopped walking at two years old. At that age, I should have been running around and exploring the world, so the abrupt change in my behavior was a frightening shock for my family. It wasn't until we spent a night in the emergency room that we learned what was happening -- I had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
My four-year battle with the disease was difficult. My doctors weren't sure if I would be able to walk again, and I was too small for any of the braces typically used to treat children with arthritis. Instead, I wore a custom made set made out of popsicle sticks, of all things!
Staying active is one of those easy things that makes a big difference for people with arthritis and for me, swimming was the answer. Part of my treatment involved doing exercises and physiotherapy in a therapy pool, and that was it -- I was hooked! During my remission, I took up competitive swimming and later attended swim camps during the summer, where I first fell in love with open water swimming.
Armed with a passion for lake swimming, I decided to swim across Lake Ontario in the hopes of breaking the women's world record for a Lake Ontario crossing. I knew first-hand the importance of The Arthritis Society's research and programming and decided to devote my swim to raising awareness about its work in juvenile arthritis.
In the summer of 2006, I successfully crossed Lake Ontario in a time of 15 hours, 11 minutes and 11 seconds -- just 71 seconds behind the world record -- and raised more than $50,000 for The Arthritis Society. Completing a swim of that kind was an incredible accomplishment for me, and I hope, it served as an inspiration to other kids with arthritis to never give up on their dreams.
Today, I'm grateful to be symptom-free, but I know that others aren't as fortunate. On Sunday, June 10, the Walk to Fight Arthritis will be taking place in 21 communities across Canada to raise funds for the leading-edge research and patient programs offered by The Arthritis Society. To participate in the walk, go to www.walktofightarthritis.ca and register a team, sponsor others or share your story.
It's hard to imagine a world without arthritis, but hopefully someday we won't have to.