Jingle Bell Run hopes to ring in a cure for arthritis

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COLUMBIA - Runners and walkers dressed up in holiday wear for the annual Jingle Bell Run in Columbia on Saturday, ready to run for a cause. 

The Jingle Bell Run is hosted by the Arthritis Foundation, and runs are held all across the nation. Its goal is to raise funds and awareness to cure America’s leading cause of disability.

“It just helps people get the word out,” Emily Fisher, Arthritis Foundation development manager, said. “People don’t realize how much of an impact it does have on someone’s everyday life. So getting the word out is definitely important.”

Around 54 million adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. However, many people don’t realize that 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition as well.

That’s where Emma Claunch comes in.

Doctors diagnosed Emma with juvenile arthritis at age 3. For the past seven years, Emma and her family have taken many trips to the doctor, and she has gone through several treatment programs. She is still fighting juvenile arthritis. 

Since Emma's diagnosis, the Claunch family has participated in the Jingle Bell Run to help raise awareness. After seven years of participating, the Arthritis Foundation staff asked Emma to be this year’s Youth Honoree.

The Arthritis Foundation nominates a child who “is really showcasing arthritis can’t stop (them),” according to Meaghan Anselm, the Arthritis Foundation’s community engagement director.

“This disease isn’t going to do anything to make her not be the best 10-year-old she can be,” Anselm said. “When I saw that, I thought people need to know about her. She is a great girl and the family is really great as well. Emma can really bring light to the fact that kids get arthritis and nothing is going to stop them.”

The different types of juvenile arthritis can cause joint swelling and negatively affect the musculoskeletal system. It can also result in pain or discomfort in eyes, skin and muscles.

Emma is a ballerina and martial artist. She’s physically active, while also being active in the community.

Emma and her team, the Jingling Jedi, have raised nearly $7,000. The whole family ran in Saturday’s event, as well.

Participants could choose to do a one mile fun walk, an untimed 5K run or a timed 5K.