Southington Freshman Leads Crusade for Mother’s Cure
By John Owens, Communications Specialist
CHESHIRE, Conn. – This war wasn’t sanctioned by a pope, but instead by a 14-year-old high school freshman.
Alan Hagist’s mother, Colleen, lives with multiple sclerosis, an often-debilitating disease affecting the central nervous system. After years of participating in the annual Walk MS with her company team, Team Hartford, she decided last year to form her own fundraising team.
A leader from the word “go,” Alan asked if he could be captain. He came up with the team name, Colleen’s Crusaders, because his mother is fighting MS and the team members are fighting along with her. He then began his fundraising campaign.
He created his own fundraising page on the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter’s, website, asking for donations “to give my mom and everybody else who has this disease the life that they deserve.”
But Alan’s strategy isn’t just to gain donations. He also aims to recruit team members to participate in the walk. The way Alan sees it, “the more people who show up to walk, the more awareness is being spread.”
Alan posted flyers around his middle school and used Facebook with his classmates to raise awareness about MS and the walk. He brought in pledge sheets and sold paper sneakers, which were posted in the school cafeteria. He even went door-to-door asking neighbors to join the cause or donate.
Alan’s efforts inspire his mother to do her part.
“I have to say, Alan is a lot more outgoing than I,“ said Colleen, who now lives in East Hartford with her fiancé. “Once he sets his mind to something, he runs with it. I’m learning a lot from him, he inspires me to be more involved.”
In fact, it took family support for Colleen to come forward with her MS at all.
Colleen began experiencing MS symptoms as far back as 1991, but wasn’t officially diagnosed until 1997 after an exacerbation. Colleen informed her family of her condition, but out of fear, didn’t initially disclose her diagnosis to her work. When co-workers would ask why she was walking slowly or appeared to be in pain, she would just shrug it off.
Then in 2001, the National MS Society in North Carolina introduced, for the first time, the MS Challenge Walk. Colleen’s sister, who lives in South Carolina, decided to take the “Challenge”. The event is a 50-mile walk spread across three days. When her sister started fundraising, Colleen was moved to come forward with her disease and assist in her sister’s efforts. Colleen found some catharsis with her decision.
“It was such a relief to tell everyone and I was so touched by their supportive reaction,” said Colleen, who then laughed and said, “now when they see me walking slowly, they know why.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Colleen, live with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness and tingling in the extremities, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness in the limbs, and in extreme cases, complete paralysis. There currently is no cure for multiple sclerosis.
Colleen’s initial symptom was “Lhermitte’s sign.” This symptom, sometimes called the “Barber Chair Phenomenon,” is a tingling sensation, almost like electrical shocks that run down the spine and into the limbs. It is mainly caused by a person flexing their head forward, or in plain terms, by looking down.
Colleen’s symptoms have changed over the years, but, as she puts it, she tries not to let her MS get in the way.
“In general, my MS has taught me to get to know my body, and eventually how to listen to it,” she said. “I consider myself lucky. I’ve had MS for 22 years and still get around on my own.”
Her family and the walk event have aided Colleen in being more open about her disease.
“It’s not until you start talking about your MS that you learn how many other people either have it or have a connection,” she said. “It pushes me to fundraise and hope for a cure.”
Colleen’s Crusaders will step out for a second year in Cheshire at the 2013 Walk MS, presented by Travelers, on Sunday, April 21.
Alan plans to use similar fundraising tactics this year at Southington High School. Always wanting to do more, he has set a personal fundraising goal of $1,500 after raising $1,000 last year.
Colleen’s sister is very involved with the National MS Society, Mid-Atlantic Chapter and has participated in the MS Challenge Walk almost every year since 2001, and if not for an age limit of 18, Alan would be right there walking 50-miles alongside her.
“I know I could do it,” he said. “I’ve got the energy for it.”
It’s difficult for him to watch MS affect his mother, but he finds comfort that his efforts are going toward a greater goal.
“The hardest thing for me is sometimes she wants to do things but she can’t,” he said. “My mom inspired me to get involved, but I’m not fundraising just for her. It’s for everybody that lives with MS. One day they will find a cure and it will feel good to know that I was part of it.”
The 2013 Walk MS, presented by Travelers, will be held Sunday, April 21, at 12 sites across the state.
The walk sites include: Cheshire at Cheshire High School, Clinton at Joel Elementary School, Danbury at Western Connecticut State University – Westside Campus, Enfield at JFK Middle School, Litchfield at Litchfield Town Green, Manchester at Manchester Community College, New London at Mitchell College, Simsbury at Westminster School, Stamford at Commons Park at Harbor Point, West Hartford at the University of Connecticut – West Hartford Campus, West Haven at West Haven High School and Westport at Sherwood Island State Park.
Each walk site will feature 2.5- and 5-mile fully-accessible routes. Participants will return to a finish-line party with entertainment, activities, and lunch, provided compliments of Subway restaurants and Coca-Cola.
For an eighth year, Darren Kramer, WTNH News 8 anchor, will return to serve as grand marshal. News 8 meteorologist Gil Simmons will lead the charge from West Haven.
Media partners include WTNH News 8 WUVN / WHTX Univision, WUTH Telefutura and Clear Channel Radio Connecticut stations Kiss 95.7 FM, WPOP Fox Sports Radio 1410 AM, ESPN Radio 97.9 FM, The River 105.9 FM, Country 92.5 FM, 960 AM, 1300 AM and KC 101.3 FM. Other community partners include 95.9 FM THE FOX, and 97.7 FM WCTY.
Funds from the walk go toward research and services for people with MS. For more information on Walk MS or to register, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org and click on the Walk MS tab. To donate to Alan and Colleen’s Crusaders, please visit http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/AlanHagist.