Darla Arnold marches each spring, and not for the sympathy or condolences.
Diagnosed at 44 with multiple sclerosis, the 51-year-old walks because she doesn’t want anyone else to experience what she does.
“Hopefully, one day there will be a cure,” she said, dressed head-to-toe in orange with an orange handkerchief wrapped around her blond hair. “And I won’t have to worry about my kids being diagnosed.”
Now in approximately its 25th year in Spokane, hundreds of people gathered Sunday at Spokane Falls Community College for the annual Walk MS event. With temperatures around the 50s, and mostly devoid of rain, marchers took a mile to 2-mile stroll through the scenic Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute near the college.
Organized nationwide by the National MS Society, the walk helps bring in millions of dollars for MS research. In Spokane, over $80,000 was raised before feet even hit pavement, said Jordan Doak, one of the organizers. She hoped another $10,000 to $20,000 would come in by day’s end.
“We’re already pretty happy,” she said.
Many of the marchers, like Arnold, live with MS. Surrounded by friends and family, they marched in groups as large as 50. Some marched solo or with a loved one. Others walked with family members who have also been diagnosed.
“I don’t know what my future will look like,” said 24-year-old Holly Lewis to the crowd before the march began. “And that’s why I choose to talk and that’s why I choose to walk.”
Lewis and her mom both live with the disease, though her mother was diagnosed much later in life. Lewis was recently diagnosed after noticing numbness and tingling in her extremities – one of the most common early symptoms of MS.
While research suggests the disease isn’t genetic, Lewis said knowing the signs meant she was diagnosed earlier than most.
“I guess, in some ways, I was lucky,” she said.
Misty Smith was encircled by purple shirts bearing the name “Team Misty Girl” – riffing on a nickname dubbed by her friends.
At 41, she’s lived with the diagnosis for three years, though the symptoms began much earlier. Years ago, she had just finished training for a run, when she felt numbness in her hands and had “severe fatigue.”
At the time, she “just thought she was tired.”
“It’s been scary being diagnosed,” she said.
She now works for the Cheney School District as a special education teacher. And she doesn’t let the disease control her life.
“I’m doing much better now,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a roller coaster, but this past year has been pretty awesome.”
Arnold, whose team “Wild Hogs Walkin’ ” has helped raised tens of thousands of dollars since it started participating about six years ago, said the community around MS has been one of the best things about her diagnosis.
It was fitting, then, that dozens of her friends and family were there to support her – all dressed in the signature orange.
“They’re great,” she said. “Oh, my gosh. They’re awesome.”