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Courtesy of The Arthritis Foundation

Column: Why the 2016 Jingle Bell Run was a run to remember

The Columbia community took to the streets to run for a cause.

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What does it take to run 3.2 miles in a nose-freezing, face-numbing winter morning? A fiery passion for a noble cause.

On Dec. 10, the deserted streets of Columbia saw this passion ignite in the form of jingle bells, sport shoes and a run that was exhausting but enlivening at the same time.

The Jingle Bell Run, hosted by the Arthritis Foundation, is a global event that’s changed minds, hearts and health for over 20 years. The event is a festive fundraiser with a mission to not only find a cure to arthritis and its 100 related diseases, but also to raise awareness about the disease, which is the No. 1 cause of disability nationwide and persists among all age groups.

Something that is unique about this particular event is its creative and jovial approach to an issue so deeply embedded in our society. Most Jingle Bell Run participants run in Santa Claus hats and candy cane socks, thus beginning their holiday season in the most benevolent and exciting way possible. It is a fun and spectacularly innovative way to add a touch of Christmas sparkle to an ordinary 5K race.

The event’s goal was to raise $40,000. With the help of donations and registration fees from the participants, they were able to raise $34,894. The turnover was encouraging as the 8 a.m. misty morning saw about 600 participants, including myself, show up for the run. The race began with the national anthem to cherish the harmonious spirit of those who gathered to run for a powerful cause.

People of all age groups, from tiny toddlers to determined elders ran or walked to reach the finish line. The run itself began in John & Mary Silverthorne Arena at Stephens College.

Inside a basketball court, the team of volunteers set up different stalls for the sponsors and teams. Each runner received a jingle bell jumper, while there were also jingle bell scarves and sweaters for participants who put in extra efforts. There was also a free nerve interference detection stall that used NASA-certified technology.

They served us all coffee and doughnuts at the end to warm up from the cold outside. There were also people cheering for us with their jingle bells so that we would complete the run.

When it comes to my own personal experience, this being my first run, I found it a bit exhausting, but I enjoyed every step of it. It was cold and hot at the same time, and I never knew my ears and nose were inflammable.

But I felt like a part of something big and something important. Some of the participants had arthritis themselves and they ran with all their might. It was inspiring and surprising to watch the willpower blossoming here in Columbia.

I realized that people are willing to go a long way — three miles, in this case — to fight for what they believe in. As I crossed the finish line, I felt victorious and proud that I was committed to the run. Maybe that was one of the motives of the Jingle Bell Run — to encourage commitment and passion in the world and in yourself.

The Jingle Bell Run is an effective and almost metaphoric way to propagate awareness about arthritis and its inimical effects on its victims. Dr. Celso Velázquez, a rheumatologist at MU Health Care and medical honoree for this year’s event, said the run is impactful.

“Events such as the Jingle Bell Run are important because the funds raised go toward treatment resources, advancements in science and community connections for those with arthritis, as well as their caregivers,” Velázquez said.

Six-year-old Samantha Hopkins, the youth honoree, spoke about her own personal battle with arthritis. She loves gymnastics, reading fairy books, playing with her little sister, riding her bike, listening to music and playing with her best friends. It’s only after you really get to know her that you learn about the biweekly Humira injections in her leg, the painful blood draws and the quarterly eye exams to monitor a disease that left untreated can cause chronic pain, growth issues and even blindness.

Hopkins is one of over 300,000 children diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. She currently benefits from over 30 years of research, advocacy and fundraising that allow some children with juvenile arthritis to live typical lives. Listening to her words, I was moved to believe there is a solution and hardened my stance to sprint toward a better future.

The Arthritis Foundation, with the ability to bring the community together and approach a serious social cause in a joyous and forward-looking way, is a true inspiration to other social causes in the brewing. The 2016 Jingle Bell Run was one step closer to making Columbia a healthier and happier place.

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