Jacey Baker of Lafayette, an 8-year-old suffering from systemic onset juvenile arthritis, was the face of the event, and other honorees were Bill Thornton as the adult honoree and Dr. Sidney Bell as the medical honoree.
Highlights of the fun morning were 5K timed fun run, the one-mile fun walk and a Santa Chase for kids ages 2 to 5.
Keith Rott, a rheumatologist at Harbin Clinic and chair of the local committee for the event, said 50 people registered the morning of the race and 350 pre-registered online. Family members and friends of the 400 runners or walkers attended the Jingle Bell Run/Walk as well to support those who are affected by arthritis.
Beth Summer, an event organizer, said she and other organizers were thrilled that so many people came out.
“We were hoping for it,” she said. “Our goal was 300, so needless to say, we are just ecstatic at the response.”
As Saturday’s Jingle Bell Walk/Run was the first ever, Rott said its success would make it a must-go-to event for years to come.
“We’re thankful and overwhelmed at the people of Rome and the surrounding area for this turnout,” said Rott. “We’re hoping to make it an annual event.”
Because arthritis is one of the national leading causes of disability, the event helped to raise awareness and funds for the nonprofit foundation. Those funds will help send kids in Rome with arthritis to camp and bring exercise programs such as aquatics, exercise, Tai Chi and Walk With Ease to the area.
“The money raised through the Arthritis Foundation, it goes to support local arthritis exercise programs,” said Rott. “It supports education and awareness. It supports a camp for kids with arthritis, and it supports research to help find a cure.”
Andy Bressette, an event volunteer, said his father suffers from arthritis and has a hard time getting around. He was glad the event raised awareness about the disease that affects people of all ages.
“I think any time you raise awareness about an issue, it helps,” Bressette said. “But I’m hopeful that it will certainly help raise funds to be able to work toward a cure and educate about what we can do to help others, especially family members. As we all get older, we want to be able to continue to be active and healthy.”