By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - About 400 people helped the Arthritis Foundation by taking part in the annual Central Texas Arthritis Walk Saturday morning at Carl Levin Park.
Most of the participants belonged to about 60 fundraising teams; the walk's goal was $36,000.
The top-producing team appeared to be the Jazzy Walkers under captain Michelle Williams with more than $2,000.
Other teams raising more than $1,000 were Team Trinity under captain Andrea Whited, Mays Makes a Difference under captain Candace Vaughan and Katie's Krew under captain Katie Benjegerdes, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. She was also the 2010 Walk Hero, one of several dozen blue-capped arthritis survivors at the event.
Benjegerdes, from Gatesville, a pre-medical major, hopes to become a pediatric ophthalmologist. At 14 months old, she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when inflamed knees interrupted her learning to walk.
The Arthritis Walk has a Walk Hero each year, and special events director Rachel Martinez of the Heart of Texas branch of the Arthritis Foundation asked Benjegerdes to assume the title for 2010 at the 2009 walk.
Benjegerdes launched the walk with a pep talk at 10 a.m. before striking out with her rheumatalogist, Dr. Marilyn Clark of Scott & White Hospital, one of several doctors and therapists walking with their patients.
"Arthritis is an equal-opportunity disease," said Clark, who has worked with arthritis patients at Scott & White for 10 years. "It strikes at any age, and its victims didn't do anything to ask for it, like smoking or drinking.
"Some wonderful drugs have come on the market in the last 10 years, and patients get better with a combination of those, other therapies, and family and community support. This walk is one of the best examples of that support."
Benjegerdes said she has stiff joints in the morning and has to take frequent rests. Climbing stairs and writing present problems. But she was the dance team captain for two years in high school and continues on a dance team in college.
"Not many people are aware of how bad the disease hurts," event chairperson Jennifer DeGraaff said.
Sponsors included KBGO FM radio, Scott & White Healthcare, Spherion and First National Bank Texas and its division First Convenience Bank.
The Central Texas walk was one of 10 scheduled this spring in Texas by the Arthritis Foundation.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.