Finding the Gifts in Juvenile Arthritis

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Juvenile Arthritis is a pain in the ass joints. My son CJ was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis when he was 9 years old. The diagnosis took my husband and I by surprise though it shouldn’t have…Arthritis is a prominent disease in both our families. The thing is, when we think of Arthritis we tend to think of it as exclusive to adults. People don’t talk much about Arthritis affecting our children. CJ complained a lot about pain. Mostly when he was asked to do something like take out the garbage (!!) We thought he suffered from a case of laziness. But it was natural for him  to complain only when he was asked to do something…when his joints caused him discomfort, he would sit down with his legs up and watch TV or play video games to give his legs a rest. Otherwise he was out climbing trees, riding his bike, jumping on the trampoline, or getting his chores done. The Doctors believe the pain had probably been there since birth, so the pain he felt was “normal” for him.  He never questioned it. He knew that when he was sore, he was tired and it helped to rest and so that’s exactly what he did, naturally. We only ever really needed to ask him to do something when he was ‘having a lazy day’ on the couch.

CJ had been training in Taekwondo since he was 7 years old – 2 years before his diagnosis. He loved it. He was determined that one day he would earn his Black Belt. Although the Arthritis did rear it’s ugly head a few times during practices and he missed his first tournament due to a flare up, he didn’t allow it to slow him down. He learned the true meaning of perseverance, and indomitable spirit.

CJ had always been thoughtful and compassionate of people and animals. Suffering the pain of Arthritis as the flare ups worsened actually made him even more so. He was driven and moved to “help people who couldn’t move their arms or their legs”. When we came across the Walk To Fight Arthritis, he was so determined to help that he took off down the road knocking on doors trying to raise funds. He ended up doing much more than that!

As people opened their doors to him, he shared with them his story which prompted many to share theirs as well. I will never forget the excitement in his voice as he threw open the door saying “Mom! I met more people who have Arthritis! I didn’t meet anyone my age with it, but lots of old people! And I raised a lot of money! Someone even gave me $20!” He raised $1800 that year and he only had 9 days to do it. People were so generous and CJ found a sense of connection with others in sharing his story.

Every year CJ sets a goal to beat last years donations. Last year he achieved that goal. CJ also sets a goal to keep moving toward his Black Belt.

In December 2013, CJ tested for his Black Belt. Part of the testing was to write an essay of his choosing. CJ’s wrote about Taekwondo and Arthritis. He wrote about the obstacles and the challenges he faced on his journey to becoming a Black Belt. He also wrote about the gifts that he has found in Arthritis – He knows who his true friends are. He has become more compassionate and caring toward others. He feels a sense of accomplishment contributing in the community. He has learned that by being himself and sharing his story, he has achieved what many adults do not; authenticity. He has learned to live by the tenets of Taekwondo in every day life; Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit.

On September 15th 2013, CJ was presented with The Ontario Youth Award for his efforts with The Arthritis Society. This is the first time this prestigious award has been presented to someone in the Ottawa area. On December 7th 2013, CJ earned his Black Belt and although it is considered a great honor to be tested by a Master in Taekwondo, the Master singled CJ out telling him the honor was HIS to have been a part of CJ’s journey in Taekwondo because he emanates the essence of Taekwondo in the Dojan as well as out in the community.

When life presents you with a challenge, learn from it, find the gift in it, and kick it’s  joint ass 🙂

If you are interested in helping CJ reach this years goal please visit his donation page here

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