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Fighting arthritis step by step

Six Flags Magic Mountain hosts annual Arthritis Walk

Posted: May 3, 2009 9:51 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Caleb Arthorp, 12, signs the Arthritis Walk Wall of Heroes banner as he prepares to start the Arthritis Walk at Six Flags Magic Mountain on Sunday.

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About 2,000 people trekked past roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain Sunday morning, but they were not there for the rides.

Instead, the crowd of arthritis sufferers and community members walked under a clear, sunny sky to help find a cure for the arthritis at the Arthritis Foundation's fifth annual Arthritis Walk.

The event marked the first year the organization combined the Santa Clarita Valley and San Fernando Valley walks and was the first year the amusement park hosted the fundraiser.

Participants with and without arthritis walked and jogged the nearly 1.5-mile path, passing roller coasters like Revolution, Goliath and Riddler along the way.

Forty-four-year-old arthritis sufferer Linda Cavataio, of Valencia, walked with a support team of friends and family members. She said she participated to help raise awareness about the condition that affects about one in five adults in the United States and about one in 250 children.

"Everybody always thinks of arthritis as, ‘My grandmother had osteoarthritis,' but there is so much more to it," said Cavataio, who said she has struggled with the condition for about 10 years. "I actually do it not really for me, but for the juveniles (who have it)."

Others walked to support friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even dogs that suffer from the condition.

Canyon Country residents Tracy and Bart Grant walked the path with their two dogs, Fergie and Cosmo.

"Fergie is suffering a little bit from arthritis, as is our neighbor," said 46-year-old Bart Grant. "We're hoping to raise enough money for research to find either cures or mitigation factors."

Funds raised from the Arthritis Walk are used for research for the Arthritis Foundation's programs and services, public education and research for a cure and better treatments, according to Patty Williams, the executive director of the Arthritis Foundation's Valley region.

After the walk, participants returned to a festive scene of music and a barbecue fundraiser lunch. They had the chance to visit sponsor booths and watch and photograph the dancing "Mr. Six," the elderly man from the amusement park's television commercials.

Each participant who raised more $150 dollars or more in donations was given free entrance into the park after the event, a component the event's organizers said helped draw the crowd.

The walks were formerly held at Bridgeport Community Park in Santa Clarita for four years and at the Warner Center in Woodland Hills for three years. But the event's leaders decided to combine the walks after receiving an offer from Six Flags Magic Mountain Park President Jay Thomas to hold the Arthritis Walk at the theme park free of charge.

"This is one of the top five walks going on in the country right now," said Fleming, who added that the walk is part of the Arthritis Foundation's nation-wide campaign, "Let's Move Together."

"We have thousands of people here today ... The weather is beautiful. People are out. It's great."

Thomas made the gesture in memory of his wife's sister, Melanie Jackson. Jackson, the event's 2009 honoree, died from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis more than two decades ago.

Fleming, the co-owner of Valencia Acura who got rheumatoid arthritis at age 29 and has suffered from it for more nearly 30 years, encouraged those struggling with the condition to learn about new treatments.

"(Get) early detection. Go see a doctor. Call the Arthritis Foundation. Get help," said Fleming after the walk. She added that she takes a new biologic drugs for her pain. "Personally, my own treatment has changed so much over the past few years."

Walking teams representing Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, Wal-Mart, the city of Santa Clarita, Soroptimist International and other groups attended the walk. Warren Eckstein, radio host of 870 KRLA AM's "The Pet Show" served as the event's emcee and Honorary Dog Walk Chair. Community leaders such as Mayor Frank Ferry, Councilwoman Laurie Ender and State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth also showed up to support the event.

"Arthritis affects tens of millions of people," Mayor Frank Ferry said. "Through programs like this, we'll be able to develop new drugs so people could live a comfortable, normal lifestyle pain-free."

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