A mother with multiple sclerosis discusses her firsthand experiences at Walk MS: Chicago Lakefront 2013.
On a beautiful, mostly sunny spring morning, thousands of people came to Grant Park to participate in Walk MS: Chicago Lakefront, a three mile walk along Lake Michigan, sponsored by the Greater Illinois Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The Illinois chapter hosts the #1 fundraising Walk MS campaign in the nation. In addition to many individual walkers, 361 registered teams walked and raised money for MS research. The donations are still being tallied, but the buzz at the walk was that the goal of $900,000.00 was surpassed.
I walked into the park with my son, Patrick Prentiss, while my husband Ric went to park the car. I wheeled a small suitcase full of snacks and drinks and brightly colored tee shirts for my team. As my son went to register, I walked carefully across the uneven field. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, and I have gait problems, weakness on my left side, and walk with a limp. Team Paula was walking for me-and all those others with MS-and I was so proud. I looked around at all the people streaming into the park, the tables being set up, the band tuning their instruments, the sun in the sky, and I felt hope. Then, unbelievably, I looked down at the ground as I was about to take a step, and I saw it-a small rock with the word “HOPE” written on it. Surely it was a sign-to keep on keeping on. I carried the rock with me and placed it on my desk, an everyday reminder of that inspiring event.
Team Paula was put together by my daughter, Katie Prentiss, for her mom-me, the Paula in Team Paula. The team consisted of ten young adults-some Northwestern University students, one Loyola University student, some recent graduates, one mom, and my children, Patrick and Katie Prentiss. All knew someone with MS and had the desire to make a connection-and a difference. Team Paula raised over $700.00. Also, many offices encouraged their employees to participate, and employers would often match donations. The top team from 2012, Colleen’s Team, raised $40,165.00, and the top individuals from 2012, Beverly and Johnny Johnson, raised $13, 635.00. In this year’s walk, the leading team may have raised a record amount! I was especially proud of these young and energetic walkers on my team, and I was touched by their participation. Because of them, and many others like them, much needed funds were raised for multiple sclerosis research. My children watched the process of my diagnosis and the progression of my disability throughout their childhood and teenage years. They learned not only to have empathy for those who have a disability, but also that they can be proactive to help find a cure. And I am so grateful.
National and state sponsors for Walk MS set up tables and awnings throughout the park and offered merchandise, advice, and information. Many MS drug representatives offered free items such as tee shirts, sunglasses, and tote bags, as well as information. Snack food and drinks were available, and a band played before and during the walk. There was so much support for the walkers. The atmosphere was one of connection, camaraderie, and, of course, hope. The 2013 Walk MS: Chicago Lakefront was a huge success. This is because the walks are all about raising awareness, as well as funds. And with awareness, comes support and understanding. The money raised at the MS Walks across the country will someday lead to better drugs, and better lives that are free from disability. It is my biggest hope.
Written by Paula Prentiss
Paula McClure Prentiss, a former middle school teacher, has been living with MS since 2001. Born in Syracuse, New York, she now splits her time between Florida and Utah. She is lucky to have the tremendous support of her husband of 30 years, Ric, as well as the support of her two children, Patrick, who works for JJ’s List in Evanston, and Katie, who is a senior at Northwestern University.
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