MARIETTA — A group of students at Wheeler High School have taken the idea of an AP Literature senior project to a whole new level by hosting a run in honor of an organization and friend who has been struggling with a neurological disorder since 2010.
Sara Dada, Divya Achtani and Sabrina Williams, all seniors at Wheeler in east Cobb, learned two years ago that their classmate Julia Falvey, now a student at Georgia Tech, was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.
This Sunday morning, the students are hosting a 5K and one-mile race and Tot Trot at Wheeler’s track to raise money for an organization that benefits research and individuals struggling with RSD.
Falvey said, “I really support them and what they’re doing because with me, the hardest thing is that there is no cure but scientists are trying new things. It’s really hard to have hope and confidence after all these medications and months of physical therapy. My friends are giving that hope to other people by fundraising.”
The 17-year-old was diagnosed with RSD in August 2010 after pulling two muscles in her left leg while at summer camp that June.
“I wasn’t responding to physical therapy, and the pain was really bad. I went to my orthopedist and he suggested I go see a neurologist,” she said. “It’s very, very acute and excruciating.”
RSD is a lifelong nerve disorder that causes pain under the skin and in the bones by a malfunctioning nerve.
Falvey underwent intense physical therapy with the assistance of some pain medication and has been in remission for a little over a year and a half.
Shortly after she went into remission, Dada said she began thinking of ways to raise funds for an RSD organization that will benefit research for finding a cure for the disorder.
“I began looking into different research and found the American RSD Hope website,” said 17-year-old Dada.
She started by raising money on her own, selling mostly wrist bands and collecting donations, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this school year when she and her classmates decided to host a formal fundraising event to not only help out the organization but earn a good grade in one of their senior classes.
“I thought it would be a great way to make money for the cause and it’s large scale,” Dada said. “I think when I first planned it I didn’t realize how much work it would be.”
The hard work has been well worth it for all of the girls though.
Achtani, 17, said, “I’m really glad we did do it because now other things we do, will come easier. It’s for a good cause and Julia is one of our best friends. It’s also been a nice learning experience.”
Williams, also 17, said it has been a challenge but well worth it.
“It’s been a lot more work than I thought it would be, but I’ve had a lot of fun learning how to plan this event and raising all this money. It’s a really good feeling knowing that you’re actually benefiting a good cause,” she said.
Each student has shared responsibilities in the project, including finding sponsors, organizing the walk itself, designing T-shirts and managing a website.
“The challenge is finding runners now,” she said. “It was surprising to me how difficult it can be.”
Their goal is to get 250 participants but as of Friday, they only had about 30 people signed up.
“I’ve been talking to classmates about the event, family members and their co-workers,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to make sure that everybody knows what’s going on.”
While the girls have done most of this project on their own, they did have a little support from an adult in the community.
The students’ mentor is Cobb County real estate broker and president elect for the East Cobb Rotary Club, Brenda Beshara, who recently helped put together a 5K event similar to what the girls are working on.
“It’s been a really great experience because these young ladies are amazing,” Beshara said. “Everything I suggest for them to do, they go out and do it. This is their largest project ever but they are very enthusiastic and nothing seems to be a hurdle for them.”
She said the students contacted her shortly after the school year began and has been working with them for a couple of months.
“I would do it again. It’s been a very nice experience,” Beshara said. “What’s so encouraging about doing this is that these kids really do have a good head on their shoulders. They are kind-hearted and put everything into this project.”
The event costs $20 per person to enter. Check in begins at 7 a.m., the 5K race at 8 a.m., the one-mile run at 8:45 a.m. and the Tot Trot at 9 a.m. The 5K and one-mile races will start at the track and travel through a nearby neighborhood.
Participants are also encouraged to dress up in a Halloween costume and winners of both the costume contest and races will be awarded during a brief ceremony at 9:30 a.m.
Sponsors for the race include In-Kind, Active.com, Big Peach Running Company, Einstein Brothers Bagels on Shallowford Road, Fontis Water, Panera Bread Company on Chastain Road, Kroger Grocery on Roswell Road, Moe’s, Costco on Barrett Parkway, Wild 105.7, Chuck Williams Photography, Pilates Tutor Studio, Warshaw Properties Inc., Todd K. Banister Realty, Sofn’Free and Cobb EMC.
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