Pamela Weitzel met her husband, Gord, 12 year ago at an MS support group and today they’re booting around the streets of Langley raising money for and increasing awareness about the debilitating disease.
On Sunday (May 28), this Willowbrook couple – backed by a team of 12 other families and friends on Team Pamela – participated in their 10th annual Scotiabank MS Walk.
They completed the shorter, three-kilometre leg of the walk of the Langley walk before it became too hot, said Pamela.
“We did it,” said the fatigued, but jubilant walker.
While Gord used a mobility scooter to participate in the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada fundraising walk, Pamela explained that she was able to walk the entire route on her own steam this year.
She was just grateful for the morning start time, “because it wasn’t too hot, yet,” but she knew it would only be a matter of time.
Leading up to the event, she was fearful – given the weather forecast – that today’s heat might be an issue for her. Heat tends to dramatically exacerbate her drop foot – which would have made it harder for her to complete the walk. But it all worked out, she told the Langley Advance.
Pamela was 25 years old – in the midst of getting her degree in commerce – when she lost sight in her right eye and became quiet unsteady on her feet. That was 2004, and a short time later she was diagnosed with MS – proving the disease doesn’t discriminate based on age.
“When they told me I had MS, I had no idea what it was… I thought of an older person in a wheelchair… I knew nothing about it,” Pamela shared.
That’s when she turned to the MS Society, and she’ll be forever grateful for the education and support she found there.
In the 13 years since her diagnosis, Pamela has always participated in the MS Walk, first backed by a few friends, or family, or even coworkers, then in the past 10 years surrounded by the more official contingent of Team Pamela.
Reflecting back, Pamela said she finished her first walk in a wheelchair. The next year, she used a scooter. The year after that she graduated to a walker, then used walking poles. Since then, she’s been able to manouvre the route – for the most part – without the assistance of mobility device. In fact, one year she even ran the entire route.
Through sheer determination, and what her hubby Gord calls “stick to it ness” she has kept physically active every day and consequently regained her sight, hung up her cane, and retired her walker, and donated her scooter.
By working out every day, Pamela has her main MS symptoms under control. But admittedly, she doesn’t get out much – in larger part because she’s also struggles with a recent diagnosis of Celiac Disease.
In speaking to how the pair met, Weitzel has a rare condition called familial spastic paraplegia, leaving him with limited mobility and some symptoms similar in some ways to MS – which is what brought him to the support group a dozen year ago.
About a year after meeting, the pair went on their first date, and eight years ago now they were wed.
It was 10 year ago that Gord launched Team Pamela, and rallied the troops to support Pam, as well as others living with the debilitating disease, and most importantly to show support for the MS Society.
This year, they were once again able to raised about $1,000 for the cause – the average amount the pair have generated each year during the past decade.
“We would like to support the MS Society and everything they do for people with MS,” Pamela said. “They’re incredible.”
There were 146 walkers who registered for this year’s stroll through Langley City.
It’s what organizer believe might be a record breaking year for the local fundraiser.
Last year, organizers estimate there were about 100 walkers. With the increase this year, volunteer Nitu Binning predicted the event will also raised a record amount for the cause. As of Sunday afternoon, the tally was at $26, 136 – $5,000 of which was turned in on the morning of the walk.
Other teams who participated in Langley’s walk Sunday morning included Maple Ridge’s Team 2 Jens, with Jenn Hingston who has MS and Jen Thomson who lost her mother to MS came together for the second year in a row – with family and friends – to raise money and awareness. They raised $2,000 last year, and almost doubled that for 2017.
We want to do it every year,” said Thomson. “We want to raise money for the cause and hopefully find a cure one day.”
Cloverdale’s Lori Mahon, 30, came out for the first time.
She was surrounded by a team of 12 family members who wanted to help the MS Society and show their support for Mahon, who was diagnosed last September.
The mother of two felt numbness from the waist down and was having difficulty walking last August. That was the first sign anything was wrong. She noted there’s no family history of MS, and admittedly she knew nothing of the disease.
Four days in Royal Columbian Hospital, three MRIs, three spinal taps, five day of steroid therapy, and countless blood tests later, Mahon was told she likely had MS. But they couldn’t give her a diagnosis until such time as she experienced a relapse.
Well, she didn’t have to wait too long. At the end of September she felt numbness and tingling in her hands. The subsequent tests confirmed she had MS.
“I’m always tired,” Mahon told the Langley Advance, noting she has to be very conscious not to overdo. She lives with contant pain and aches, and suffers some short-term memory loss, but she’s learning to adapt.
Asked how she enjoyed this year’s walk, Mahon described it as “great. It was just nice to have the family there… I think it was a huge success.”
Orders are going in soon for T-shirts, because her team has every intention of being back for the Langley walk again next year.
“Everyone is super excited for next year,” especially her nine and five-and-a-half-year-old daughters.
Her group managed to raise $600 for MS this year, but given the lead up time they have for the 2018 event, Mahon is expecting to collect many more donations for the cause.
MS Walk by the numbers
Emcee Jonny Staub, of 94.5 Virgin Radio, has been part of the Langley walk now for two years.
“I really like the Langley community,” said the Vancouver DJ. “I always meet such great people here… and just listening to their stories, you see why so many people are passionate about helping fight this disease.”
He pointed to Mahon, as an example, and said he’d never have suspected she was living with MS.
“It’s nice to be involved in helping out where you can… to help find a cure,” Staub said.
Breaking it down by numbers, he offered some insight into the walk on a national level:
• Every single step matters
• 125 communites across Canada held a walk on Sunday
• In B.C., 4,000 people walked in 18 communities
• There were 146 participants who registered in the Langley walk
• At least $26,000 was raised in this year’s Langley walk – the goal was $27,000
• Last year, all the walks raised $900,000 for MS Society of Canada – the largest biggest fundraiser annually
– Part of that money was earmarked for 37 MS educational sessions
– Part of that money ($335,000) was used to purchase medical equipment
– Part of the money helped 300 individuals with voluntary legal assistance
• About 30 people volunteered helped coordinate this year’s MS Walk in Langley
• There are approximately 12,000 people in B.C. currently living with MS
• Women are three times as likely to develop MS, than men
• MS is one of the most common neurological diseases affecting young adults inthe country
• Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world