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Arthritis Walk at Six Flags Magic Mountain, May 3

Participants who raise a minimum of $150 earn free ticket to theme park

Posted: April 17, 2009 2:41 p.m.
Updated: April 17, 2009 2:26 p.m.
Cheri Fleming is the 2009 co-chair of the Arthritis Walk. Cheri Fleming is the 2009 co-chair of the Arthritis Walk.
Cheri Fleming is the 2009 co-chair of the Arthritis Walk.

A small child, dressed in a pink jumper with matching patterned blouse and captured in mid-laugh, stared from the large screen on stage of the Magic Moments Theater at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The kickoff event of the 2009 Arthritis Walk was well underway with a parade of speakers encouraging the dozens of attendees to form fundraising teams.

The cute little blonde-haired girl in the photo, Melanie Jackson, born in 1973, is the 2009 Arthritis Walk honoree. She was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 4 and at age 7 she died from the disease.

Jackson’s sister, Ashley Thomas, wife of Jay Thomas, president of Six Flags Magic Mountain, spoke movingly of her older sister who died from a disease that now has many more treatment options.

“Thank you so much for honoring my sister.” said Ashley Thomas. “Her story is not for tears and sadness but to demonstrate that much has changed with treatments and medicine. I know if she were alive today she would be so very proud of the progress we have all made to work toward a better today and tomorrow.”

The 2009 Santa Clarita Valley Arthritis Walk has been combined with the San Fernando Valley The Arthritis Walk is the Arthritis Foundation’s annual nationwide signature event that raises funds and awareness to fight arthritis, the nation’s most common disability.

“In 2009 we’ve combined two great walks and now it will be called the Arthritis Walk at Six Flags Magic Mountain,” said Manuel Loya, Arthritis Foundation president.

“We’re very excited and very proud to be associated with the Arthritis Walk this year,” said Jay Thomas.

A kick-off event, held at Magic Mountain, attracted dozens of supporters and a host of speakers to encourage participants to form teams and attract donations.

Honorary Arthritis Walk chairs include Peng Thim Fan, M.D., Jay, Austin and Ashley Thomas, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, state Assemblyman Cameron Smyth and Los Angeles city councilman Dennis Zine.

Arthritis Walk co-chairs include Don and Cheri Fleming and Joni Shaffery of the Santa Clarita Valley and Dale Surowitz and Rose Goldwater of the San Fernando Valley.

Cheri Fleming, Walk co-chair, said the goal for the combined walks is $280,000 but believes that with extra effort it can raise $300,000.

“This is such an important cause that we’re here for, for the arthritis foundation,” she said. Fleming is a sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis, diagnosed at age 29.

“The Arthritis Foundation does such a good job for us with education and raises money for research and exercise classes. They are an amazing organization,” Fleming said. “One in five people suffers from arthritis. Dogs get arthritis, too. So dogs are welcome at the walk.”

Joni Shaffery, Walk co-chair, said arthritis affects 300,000 children in the United States. She said there are only 300 doctors to treat those children.

Shaffery said her son, Travis Shaffery, the 2008 Walk honoree, and Melanie Jackson had the same disease, but Travis Shaffery’s story has ended differently.

“He is 22 and his disease is being treated — the medical advances are amazing, just in the last 10 years alone, and it is because of people like you. Because of you my son is still alive,” said Shaffery.

Arthritis Walk, Sunday, May 3, at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. Walkers who raise $150 will receive an entry into the park after the walk. Registration opens 7:30 a.m., warm up at 8:30 a.m., walk (one or three mile option) begins at 9 a.m. Festival zone, kids zone, entertainment and refreshments available 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Register and fundraise online at For information call (818) 995-7378.



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