Face of hope

Arthritis Walk honoree says to focus on positives

Laura Harrill is the honoree for the 2010 Maryville Arthritis Walk, which will be in downtown Maryville on Sunday, May 2.

Laura Harrill is the honoree for the 2010 Maryville Arthritis Walk, which will be in downtown Maryville on Sunday, May 2.

The face of the 2010 Maryville Arthritis Walk has a message for both arthritis sufferers and walk supporters: Stay positive because there is hope.

Laura Harrill was hesitant when walk organizers asked her to be the adult honoree for the 9th annual walk. She wasn’t sure she was “typical” enough to represent the group.

The 68-year-old, who retired in 2008 as director of Community Development with Blount Memorial Hospital, didn’t know if it would be appropriate for her to be the adult honoree since she isn’t in constant pain anymore.

“I asked if I could talk with my rheumatologist to see if it would be appropriate,” she said. “He said he thought it would be a great idea because it gives people hope.”

Harrill knows the pain most people with arthritis face every day. “I am very healthy, but most people with arthritis are in pain all the time. I’m lucky I’m not in pain now. I have been in pain, a lot of pain, but not now.”

The ninth annual Maryville Arthritis Walk is set for Sunday, May 2. Harrill wants the entire community to come out and help raise money and awareness to support those with the debilitating disease.

Her own journey started with a pain in her knee.

“It was actually in the Fall of 2004. It was just a sudden pain in my knee. I was used to knee pain because I had an old injury, but this pain was pretty debilitating so I went to the doctor and they ran tests,” she said.

In a short time the pain began to migrate to other joints in her body. “That knee pain moved to hip pain, shoulder pain, elbow, wrist and neck pain,” she said. “I laughed about it at first but when my good knee went out, I knew something was going on.”

Harrill was referred to rheumatologist Dr. Marvin Beard. “I continued to work at the hospital the whole time, but it was challenging,” she said. “The pain was very great, and my shoulder hurt so badly I couldn’t put my coat on and do anything myself. I had to go on Prednisone -- a major anti-inflammatory -- to turn it around.”

The retired hospital employee said every arthritis patient is different. “They have to manage their arthritis differently, depending on the person themselves. I never was on any pain medicine, but I was on massive doses of Prednisone to get inflammation out. I was also on antibiotics, which a lot of people are not receptive to. I happen to be one of those people who was,” she said.

Harrill said she also had to do the normal things like take extra calcium and extra vitamin D, eat a good diet and continue to be as active as possible. “The more you move, the more your joints stay limber,” she said.

There are some genetic characteristics to arthritis, Harrill said, and noted that her grandmother and her father had arthritis.

“I’m very, very fortunate right now,” she said. “I’m working out everyday, and I’m taking tai chi, and that has done wonders. That is one thing the Arthritis Foundation has endorsed because it is good for people with arthritis.”

Harrill had this advice for people who have just been diagnosed with arthritis: Focus on the positive.

“Find something you can do when you are in pain or have certain joints that are very troublesome,” she said. “Focus on the positive. There are so many different treatments for arthritis. You are not just stuck with one option. That is a real good thing.”

Harrill said the Arthritis Foundation has helped fund research and treatment, modalities and new drugs. “Those are things we should be thankful for,” she said.

Julia Whipple, development and services coordinator at the Arthritis Foundation Southeast Region, Inc. Tennessee, said folks can register for the walk at www.letsmoveblount.org.

“This is the ninth annual Blount County walk and is the exclusive walk for East Tennessee. It is the Arthritis Foundation’s signature event, joining walks all over the country,” she said. “Our goal this year is around $30,000. We’re hoping to have 300 people.”

The walk comes back to Blount County this year after a year in Knoxville, and the location is new as well.

“We’ve decided to move the walk downtown,” said Whipple. “Our theme -- very appropriate for Blount County -- is ‘Let’s Move Together.’ Moving the walk to downtown Maryville has energized the event. We are able to take advantage of the Greenbelt, where the majority of the walk will be held.”

In addition, Founders’ Square -- between CBBC bank and Preservation Plaza on East Broadway Avenue -- is the staging area for the walk and will be the place to celebrate and party. Then participants will walk down College Street to the Greenbelt Park for the walk.

“We’ll have live music with lots of vendors at Founders’ Square,” said Whipple. “Live music is being provided by Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, which should be fun. We hope this will grow into a huge event that is anticipated for years to come,” she said. “Our goal in the next few years is to get 1,000 people attending and raise $100,000. There is no cost to walk but we hope people will realize this is a fundraiser and make donations.”

Registration for the walk is at 2 p.m. and the music will begin then. The walk begins at 3 p.m. Warm up for the walk will be conducted by Donna Dixon of Smoky Mountain Wellness. She is a certified arthritis instructor of Tai Chi. There also will be demonstrations of other forms of exercise, information booths and food vendors.

Blount Today publisher Sherri Gardner Howell and advertising director Marty Millsaps are chairing the walk committee.

Individual walkers and teams are still being recruited on the website or by calling Whipple at 865-470-7909.

Money raised from the event goes to provide curriculum and exercise support for people with arthritis. “We certify instructors in arthritis exercise. It goes to exercise programs and educational programs. We also have scholarships for Juvenile Arthritis Conference and also there is the Camp for Courageous Kids in Kentucky. We also are the nation’s largest contributor to research for arthritis.”

For more information, call Julia Whipple at 865-470-7909 or juliawhipple@arthritis.org

Register at www.letsmoveblount.org.

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