by TaLeiza Calloway
For sisters Rachel and Raina Ruff and their friend Maggie Hamerlinck, volunteering for the annual Walk for MS (multiple sclerosis) is a routine event. This year’s event May 6 was no different for the Kennedy Community School students.
Seventh-graders Rachel Ruff and Hamerlinck and fifth-grader Raina greeted walkers with bottled water, oranges and crackers while thanking them for their support.
Raina said she enjoys seeing the teams that step up to walk. Maggie said her mother has been coordinating the St. Cloud walk for the last 20 years. The 13-year-old has learned of the event’s importance through volunteering throughout the years. She also thinks the event offers something to participants.
“I think it adds value for people who might have MS or might have had someone in their family with it,” Hamerlinck said of the walk’s significance.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the body’s central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body and stops people from moving. Symptoms include numbing and tingling, abnormal fatigue, vision problems and paralysis.
About 430 walkers participated in the walk this year, coordinator Nicole Olesen said. At the end of the day, more than $70,000 was raised for the Upper Midwest chapter of the National MS Society. Nearly 30 vendors and 80 volunteers, including local Girl Scout troops and Apollo High School’s Astronettes dance team, aided in the walk.
Though numbers were down from the estimated 600 walkers Olesen predicted, she was pleased to see those who did support the event. Numbers were down 20 percent statewide, and the reason is unknown.
“It’s really cyclical,” Olesen said of participation throughout the years.
The best year in St. Cloud for walkers was 2009 with 701 registered walkers; best monetary year was 2008 with $133,000 in donations.
But the event is not about numbers; it’s about the connections made through the event, Olesen said. That includes connecting those living with MS with resources and support groups and connecting communities to information about the disease.
Olesen became involved with the MS society after her mother was diagnosed with MS in 1989. With the growing prevalence of the disease in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, any way to help those battling the disease is worthwhile, Olesen added.
“It’s important because it helps fund research to help find a cure for MS,” she said. “It affects more than 10,000 people in the state.”
The MS Society aims to provide a support system for people who know what it’s like to live with MS and to help others navigate the disease.
“The MS Society is instrumental in helping people move forward when they have MS,” she said. “It can be such a debilitating disease for so many people.”
John Pozorski of Sauk Rapids was happy to support the event. The 52-year-old has lived with MS for 18 years, and this was his first time walking to raise awareness. His wife, Donna, and her friend also decided to walk this year.
“It’s nice,” Pozorski said. “There’s a lot of people walking, a lot of support.”
Pozorski has been a supervisor at Electrolux for 12 years. He works a lot on his feet and is often told to slow down. His motto is “Keep Going!”