Advocating for juvenile arthritisWhen Woodbury resident Marisa Boatman was just 10 years old, she received some surprising news – she had arthritis.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
When Woodbury resident Marisa Boatman was just 10 years old, she received some surprising news – she had arthritis.
Boatman was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile arthritis, which primarily affects her legs.
“I’d never heard of it, so I was very scared, very angry,” Boatman said.
Boatman, now 16, is being recognized for her fight against juvenile arthritis. She has been named the 2012 honoree for the Juvenile Arthritis March (JAM) March 3 at the Mall of America.
The goal of JAM is to raise awareness and funds for arthritis programs and services offered by the Arthritis Foundation.
Boatman held a silent auction and charity concert Saturday at The Alley Church in Cottage Grove to help raise funds.
“I’m really excited to raise awareness about JAM and kind of get the idea of juvenile arthritis out there more,” Boatman said.
Coping with arthritis
When Boatman, currently a sophomore attending the online high school NorthStar Academy, first found out she had juvenile arthritis, she said it was a very difficult time in her life.
Because of her constant pain, various activities were physically challenging for her – a struggle that ultimately caused her to have to give up sports.
“I’m not nearly in so much pain as I was when I was first diagnosed, but I’m still in pain almost every day,” she said. “When I was first diagnosed I kind of sheltered myself from pain – and that was not the best idea.”
Over the years, Boatman has taken numerous medications and has gone through physical therapy to help with her arthritis.
Boatman said she turned to other activities, such as 4-H and horseback riding, to fill the void left by sports.
“I tried to find new activities that I could do to help keep my mind off of my arthritis,” she said.
Even though coping with the pain was a challenge for Boatman, she said the biggest challenge was coping with the lack of support and understanding from her classmates.
Boatman previously attended New Life Academy.
“I got asked if I was 60 or how many years I got held back,” she said, referring to the disease, which is often associated with older people. “When I said I had arthritis, they kind of thought it was a joke.
“That was difficult having to deal with that on top of being diagnosed with something.”
Boatman eventually was able to accept her juvenile arthritis with the help of the Arthritis Foundation.
It was her mother who introduced her to the Arthritis Foundation and JAM.
“It was great to learn that I’m not alone in this,” she said, “and someone else is dealing with this thing.”
This year’s JAM will mark Boatman’s sixth march. Over the years, Boatman has raised roughly $15,000 for arthritis research.
JAM is different than other fundraising marches in that teams are encouraged to dress up to reflect the theme of the year.
“Since it’s about children, they’re trying to make it a little bit more fun,” Boatman said. “The day is kind of about us.”
In the past JAM has had such themes as rock and roll, superheroes and sports.
This year’s theme is “Jammin’ in My Jammies,” which will encourage all participants to dress in their pajamas.
“We’re going to try and do something fun with that,” Boatman said. “My dad is going to be wearing these pink bunny footy pajamas.”
As this year’s honoree, Boatman is responsible for spreading awareness about JAM and juvenile arthritis by speaking at various events.
Boatman will also be sharing her story during the actual event.
Boatman’s team, “Boatgirl’s Bunch” has set a goal of topping last year’s total of $3,885.
“The honorees typically raise the most money, I think they raised $10,000 the last couple years,” she said. “I would love to be the top fundraiser, but that would be a big step up for us.
“If I can raise $5,000 that would be great.”
Boatman said she’s not entirely sure if she’ll participate in JAM next year, but she is definitely going to keep working toward finding a cure for juvenile arthritis.
“I’d love to find a cure for arthritis,” she said, “I’d also love to get more awareness out about juvenile arthritis.”
If you would like to donate to Marisa Boatman’s team for the Juvenile Arthritis March, visit her fundraising page at www.woodburyboatman.com