[caption id=”attachment_148” align=”aligncenter” width=”348”] Two cousins of a four-year-old Alberta boy recently diagnosed with duchenne muscular dystrophy help run a recent school sports day to build muscular dystrophy awareness and funds.[/caption]
When Joel Paluska learned his four-year old cousin had a condition that would lead to him needing a wheelchair just a few short years from now, and that he would likely not live past his early 20s, he just had to do something.
“I wanted my cousin, when he grew older, to be able to do things I was able to do, like run and win (sports medals) and be able to move around and grow up to be an adult and have fun in life,” says the Grade 4 student at John Knox Christian School in Woodstock.
Joel’s cousin, Spencer VanRooyen, was diagnosed with duchenne muscular dystrophy last summer. While he’s still able to be physically active, he has already begun to wear braces on his ankles at night to keep his leg muscles from tightening up. He is also doing some physiotherapy.
Spencer, who lives in Alberta, has a large extended family in Ontario. They have been pouring themselves into providing as much as support as they can from a distance. Several months ago they decided to participate in the annual Walk for Muscular Dystrophy to both build awareness and raise funds for research.
Joel decided he wanted to engage his school community, and asked for a meeting with his school’s vice-principal who also happens to be Spencer’s grandmother — Bernice Huinink-Buiter.
After brainstorming, the two determined Joel would ask the school’s student council to structure an upcoming sports day around raising awareness of Spencer and his condition.
Joel wrote a letter to the council, outlining what he would like to see happen, and then presented his case in person. The council agreed to his proposal, and in early June an entire day of sports activities at John Knox Christian School was held in Spencer’s honour.
Students were invited to donate $2 to the muscular dystrophy cause and a mantra of the day was, “We’re moving our muscles for you Spencer.”
“The whole school just got on board; it was pretty amazing,” says Huinink-Buiter, noting about 10 of Spencer’s cousins also attend the school, so it became very much a family-driven day.
Joel showed leadership from start to finish, she adds.
“He has such a heart for others,” Huinink-Buiter says, noting she and Joel’s mother helped figure out the practical details of the day, but Joel was never afraid to take ownership and “had such cool ideas.”
Kevin Huinink, a Woodland Christian High School teacher and another relative of Spencer’s, notes this story is “awesome on so many levels,” from the youth leadership perspective to raising awareness of muscular dystrophy through a school sports day.
“This story makes me really excited about what kids can and do (undertake),” says Huinink.
Joel and his extended family will be participating as “Team Spencer” in the London muscular dystrophy walkathon on June 15. The approximately $380 raised through the John Knox school event will be donated to Muscular Dystrophy Canada.
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