November 29, 2012 in Health, Washington Voices

Event at Riverfront Park raises funds for, awareness of arthritis

By The Spokesman-Review
File photo

Santa and his crew participate in last year’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk on Nov. 19, 2011. This year’s race is Saturday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

2012 Jingle Bell Run/Walk

When: Saturday. Children’s run starts at 8:30 a.m.; adults at 8:55.

Where: Riverfront Park, downtown Spokane.

How to participate: Put on your most festive holiday workout attire or that hidden Santa suit and help raise funds and awareness of the nation’s leading cause of disability. Registration and more information at

At a glance

• 50 million Americans (1 in 5) have arthritis, making it the leading cause of disability in the nation

• The number of affected Americans has grown by more than 3 million over the last decade alone

• 67 million Americans are expected to be affected by arthritis in 2030

• Arthritis costs the U.S. economy totals $128 billion annually.

• 300,000 children in the U.S. are affected by arthritis.

• There are more than 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

The Arthritis Foundation

Something as simple as braiding her daughter’s hair can be painful for Ashley Smith, 30. At 18 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. “All I could think was, ‘Arthritis? That’s an old-people’s disease,’ ” recalled Smith.

But it’s not. In fact, 300,000 children in the U.S. are affected by arthritis.

Smith’s physician impressed her with the seriousness of the disease. “He said, ‘You need to take your medication or you could end up in a wheelchair.’ ” Harsh words for a teenager to hear. She heeded his advice and diligently took her medicine – even though many of the drugs have unpleasantly debilitating side effects.

Ten years ago, when she was pregnant with her daughter she began to do her own research into rheumatoid arthritis. “I was like, wow, this disease really sucks,” Smith said. “I had to re-evaluate my life. I thought I could be ‘supermom,’ but I couldn’t. I had to step back and decide what was important.”

Caring for her husband, her daughter and her 7-year-old son topped the list. And she added something else – The Jingle Bell Run, a 5K run/walk sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation. “This is my fourth year with the Jingle Bell Run,” Smith said. “It really opened my eyes. I didn’t know a lot of younger people with arthritis until I got involved in the run.”

This year Smith is the 2012 Jingle Bell Run/Walk Honoree. Event organizers say Smith’s courageous battle is inspiring.

Smith is frank about how arthritis affects her daily life. “It’s gotten much worse over the years for me. My immune system is suppressed because of my meds, so I get sick more often than a normal person would. I get stiff really easy, so I have to get up and move around. Sleeping isn’t easy.”

For her the hardest part of dealing with the disease is seeing how it affects her family. But she’s also appreciated how adaptive and resilient her kids have become. “I take my medication on Tuesday night, so every Wednesday I’m sick,” she said. “My kids know Mom’s going to need to lay low.”

And although winter is a difficult time for many arthritis-sufferers, Smith looks forward to participating in the Jingle Bell Run. “I love Christmas,” she said. “I’m the crazy person who puts her tree up Nov. 1.”

The festive costumes and holiday excitement of the event lift her spirits. “We had two naked guys wearing boxes last year – they were presents,” Smith said, laughing.

Annie Omata of the Arthritis Foundation said the Jingle Bell Run/Walk began 30 years ago. “This is the sixth year in Spokane. The funds raised go to local families to fund a free weekend camp for children with arthritis and their families.”

Money raised also goes to public education programs and research. “There are 90,000 Spokane residents diagnosed with arthritis,” Omata said. “The run raises awareness of the toll it (arthritis) has on your body. It’s a fantastic way to get the community involved.”

Smith agreed and added, “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s bigger than that. The run has a deeper meaning – to me it means hope.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email