What was supposed to be a walk turned into a run last Sunday for St. Clements’ Derek Beam as he sprinted from the starting line of the third annual Arthritis Society fundraiser walk at Bingemans in Kitchener. “At first I thought ‘oh my goodness, how is he going to feel later?’” said his mother, Tracey, “but he woke up and felt good the next day and went to school.”
The walk consisted of a 1-km or 5-km loop at the park, and this was the first year that Derek felt able to complete the 5-km portion.
The 10-year-old has lived with juvenile arthritis for the last four years. It is one of the most common chronic illnesses affecting children and, according to the Arthritis Society, one in 1,000 children under 16 has the affliction.
Unlike other forms of juvenile arthritis – of which there are nearly 100 – the type Derek has also impacts his organs, such as enlargement of the liver and spleen, inflammation of the lungs, and inflammation around his heart, and he will never outgrow it.
More than 60 people came out to support the family as part of their team, Derek’s Destroyers, and made a significant impact on the fundraising efforts of the society. According to their website, Derek is the top individual fundraiser across Canada with nearly $25,000 in donations to his name, easily surpassing his goal of $1,000.
His team collected more than $40,000, or about four times their fundraising goal of $9,000 and almost half of the $82,000 collected in Waterloo-Wellington – making Derek’s Destroyers the top fundraising team in the nation.
“It’s the whole team that makes our success,” said Tracey. “They all worked hard to reach that number.”
The money was raised through a variety of special events, raffles and donations from classmates and friends at St. Clement Catholic School, many of whom asked for donations in lieu of birthday presents and who sold hundreds of candy kebabs, a project spearheaded by classmate Taylor Kelly.
The medication that Derek needs for his condition is covered under medical insurance, and even though the family does incur some costs by driving to Toronto for treatment, they donate every dollar they raise back to research.
“They are so passionate about the disease and they want their son to have the best possible life that he can,” said Shirley Mitchell, community engagement manager for the Arthritis Society. “The people of St. Clements have just rallied around it.”
The walk has “done nothing but grow” since its inception, Mitchell added. They raised $765,000 across Canada in their first year, $1.3 million last year, and about $1.6 million this year.
The success of Derek’s Destroyers has also mirrored that of the society; in their first year the team had 20 walkers who collected about $8,000 and last year 35 walkers collected about $15,000.
“People with arthritis are incredibly brave,” said Mitchell. “Despite the pain they don’t complain and continue to carry on, and Derek has already shown that mentality.”