I learned a lot today. Partially from the chaos of the week that led to today but more because of what I heard from today’s Walk the Talk speaker.
It was a busy day of running around with my regular day job – I’m an editor – and then this side gig (i.e., Walk the Talk) that has turned into a passion I didn’t expect. Walk the Talk gives me so much joy and pride that I’m terrified I’ll screw something up. And I did screw up a little bit today. I was exhausted from the regular be-everywhere-at-once type of week and not as prepared for Walk the Talk today as I have been in the past. That worried me, which frazzled me, so I worried more and that’s where my overthinking began.
I was given the floor to introduce today’s speaker, Patrycia Rzechowka, which I was not prepared for. I usually hide in the back of the room and let the school’s principal introduce the speaker while I become a fly on the wall. Today, I fumbled and did not do Patrycia, or her intro, any justice.
The reason I fumbled with introducing Patrycia is that she is involved in a lot of things, many are MS Bike Tour related or about raising money and awareness for the MS Society but I know that’s not all she’s about and I worried I’d label her too narrowly. My overthinking had me stumped and I didn’t really say much about her at all.
To make up for that, I’ll include the bio I wrote about her that was sent out to parents before the Walk the Talk series began. This will to help explain more of what she is about (but she just changed jobs, so that part is no longer accurate!!! sorry):
Patrycia Rzechowka is an Executive Coordinator/Analyst for the Government of Alberta Justice and Solicitor General who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2012. She is one of an estimated 100,000 Canadians living with this autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system (brain and spinal cord) in many ways. Ever since her diagnosis, Patrycia chose to fight MS by joining the MS Bike Tour and has been a part of it every year since as a participant and spokesperson specifically for the Leduc to Camrose tour and received Edmonton’s National Philanthropy Day Award in 2013 for all of her charitable work. Growing up in Edmonton with the dream to become a police officer and graduating from the University of Alberta with a criminology degree, Patrycia’s life plan changed quickly with her MS diagnosis a year after university graduation. Her drive to remain physically active and community minded has not faltered though: for the past two years, she joined Sherwood Park Toyota’s Pedal Power initiative to raise funds and food donations for the Food Bank by riding her bike in the car dealership on a trainer for hours each of the five days the fundraiser was on; she also recently became a spin instructor for Spinunity; and on days where her body isn’t quite agreeing with her (there are times a foot is too numb to stand on), she’ll do whatever activity she can for the day even if it’s just taking her dog out for a walk.
Patrycia speaks at many events to share her story but didn’t hesitate at all to add Walk the Talk to her list. Her story isn’t just about MS, – she is about so much more and is eager to talk to the Lakeland Ridge students about how to go with the flow and deal with the forks in the road, as there are many in everyone’s lives.
Today, Patrycia’s presentation was very down-to-earth as she explained MS symptoms to the group of kids, mainly Grade 5 students, to help them relate to her life and others with the disease. She brought props and set them out on a table for the students to try after explaining their purpose first.
The glasses had blurry lenses, or just one was out of focus, and she instructed the kids to put a pair on and try to walk in a straight line, following the green taped line on the floor. The students could also wear a pair of the glasses and try to throw magnetic darts at the board to see how good their aim was with poor sight.
She also had the kids put socks on their hands and try to open Zip Lock bags or button up shirt buttons. That’s how the hands of a person with MS can work sometimes: like they have socks on and their fingers aren’t nimble.
All cases of MS are different and the degrees of symptoms vary greatly, but for Patrycia, some days are good and others are not. She never knows what she’s going to wake up to and if a part of her body will betray her.
Blurred vision in one eye that eventually went completely black, was the first indicator to Patrycia that something was wrong and led to her MS diagnosis about five years ago.
The scary stat she mentioned was that Canada has the highest rate of people diagnosed with MS in the whole world and doctors do not know why. There are three new cases of MS diagnosed every day. EVERY. DAY.
She showed a movie called “This Bike Has MS” and brought in a sample bike, like the one in the movie, she helped make. This bike has bent rims so you’re always fighting it to go straight. Some cogs are filed down on the gears so that the chain jumps and slips randomly as you peddle. The seat has no padding and the tape on the handle bars is thin, causing irritation and pain after a while of riding. All of these things simulate what it’s like to have MS.
Aside from the stats and the symptoms, it was when Patrycia said that people don’t understand that you’re sick when you don’t look sick. She used to run track and wanted to be a police officer but her MS diagnosis took those things away, even though she looked the same as she did before.
She realized that her life was going to be very different than what she thought growing up. She knows MS has changed her path but she’s adjusting with a smile and trying to positively impact others along the way. “I’m trying to focus on what MS has given me rather than what it has taken away,” she said, noting the speaking opportunities she has now and people she’s met because of MS.
“Life has a very interesting way of putting you right where you’re supposed to be,” she said.
Patrycia’s future is unknown, she knows that and sometimes worries about it. There is a real possibility she’ll need a cane or wheelchair one day. “We’re all allowed to be scared and have bad days. We just can’t give up,” she said.
Her final points stressed that we all have a fight. We’re all up against something so be kind to others. You don’t know what their story is. If you’re kind and help others, they will gladly help you in return because you’re never too old, too cool or too strong to have to get through your battles all alone. Ask for help when you need it. It’s okay to ask for help.
Be Scared. Be Strong.
Cry on Somebody’s Shoulder. Be a Shoulder To Cry On.
Support Each Other. Fight Your Fight.
Thank you Patrycia. The kids, parents and teachers are all better informed from your talk but more importantly, more inspired.