Is it time to retire walking for arthritisMy colleague Leslie who writes The R.A. Academe on CreakyJoints, recently spoke about the NFL going pink for breast cancer, asking why someone can’t go blue for arthritis. I had the same exact conversation with my fiancée when I saw the pink penalty flags and towels in the NFL. I wondered why arthritis is doomed to the same old fundraisers again and again, with the number one dud, the infamous walk.

Before we go any further, I have to warn you. I hold quite a controversial point of view that some will certainly not agree with. The bottom line: if we ever want arthritis and autoimmune disease to become as well-known and respected as breast cancer, we need to think radically. The yearly walk campaign has to be totally revamped, or more probably, it has to go entirely.

I want to conduct an experiment right here in this article. If you were asked what was the number one thing that people with arthritis had trouble doing, what would your answer be? My strong bet is that you would probably say, “moving around,” “ambulating,” “physical activity,” and even “walking.” Now, if I asked you what were the main things that people do at the yearly Arthritis Walk, would your answer be the same? I think you know it would be. The most popular yearly charity event that arthritis sufferers have to look forward to literally celebrates the one activity that almost all of us have trouble doing.

Walking for arthritis! If you look at it objectively, it’s on par with “Screwing for Virginity,” “Swingers for Monogamy,” and “Fighting for Peace!” It goes without saying that holding this yearly event makes us the butt of more than a few jokes, but the most dangerous result of this living oxymoron is also the most insidious. We need to realize what the ultimate subconscious message is when we advertise these charity walks all over. It’s simple psychology, and the effect it has is akin to a soldier’s desensitization to violence.

A while back, I wrote an article about people like Phil Mickelson, and the makers of NSAID over-the-counter medicine and how they give the incorrect impression through their television ads that arthritis is “nothing serious,” and that the disease can be conquered by a simple injection or by swallowing a few pills. In the months since then, though, I realized that the greatest perpetrator of disseminating this fallacy was – you guessed it – us! When Joe Q. Public sees ads all over that the Arthritis Foundation is hosting a walk for charity, they begin to make assumptions without even knowing it.

As I was waiting for my lunch at Panera today, I asked a few people around me to tell me which condition they thought would more likely result in someone not being able to walk, and I gave them a choice between a broken foot, and having arthritis for five years. The handful of people who didn’t think I was a lunatic all responded with “a broken foot,” without hesitation. This is because when someone sees the word “Arthritis Foundation,” and “walk” in the same sentence, their brain automatically connects the two subconsciously. It’s an old trick of advertising, in fact. The more you reinforce association by repetition, the more a person will link the two items, most times without conscious thought. For example, when I say “Golden Arches,” you think “McDonalds” without even trying. With our constant walk campaigns, sometimes two or three a year, we are simply reinforcing the fact that arthritis is not a disease that is serious enough to inhibit someone’s ability to walk. I promise you, this is what’s happening, and we are all guilty of letting it continue.

Now, by this point, I’m sure many of you are yelling at your computer screens and saying things like “but the walks make a lot of money,” or “all charities have walks,” or even “I don’t see you giving us any better ideas!” Well, I’m happy to respond. First, yes, the walks do make money, but that doesn’t mean something else can’t make more money for arthritis research, and further raise people’s awareness of the disease and its horrible effects. We need to think outside the box, but, unfortunately, so many foundation chapters are afraid to spend money taking a risk on an event that isn’t tried and true, that this will probably never happen. We need to take some of that money and hire the same PR firm that the breast cancer people hired to turn the NFL pink for a month! I bet they would come up with a fantastic plan. This won’t happen though, and the reason is pure laziness. No one wants to buck the status quo, and unfortunately great organizations like Creaky Joints can only do so much.

Next, yes, it’s true that most charities have walks to raise funds and awareness, but we need to remember that our disease is one that greatly affects mobility!! You would never see the Breast Cancer people hold a wet-t-shirt contest, and you would never see the Cystic Fibrosis people hold a competition to see who could hold their breath the longest. Also, you would never see the alcoholic crowd hosting a wine tasting, and you certainly would never see the arthritis crowd hosting a walk – oh wait! Do you see how crazy it sounds when in appropriate company?

Last, the fact is that I do have a ton of replacement ideas. Instead of a yearly walk, why don’t we have an event where people are required to tie one leg off and walk with a cane? How about a dinner where participants have to put one arm in a sling and use their other hand to perform simple tasks like eating a meal and pouring a drink. What about an event where celebrity charity attendees are forced to come up with alternate ways to complete simple tasks like changing a light bulb or tying a shoe? These are all things that people with arthritis do every single day without a second thought. Events like these would go much further in raising awareness about arthritis than hosting a walk does. Oh, and, they would have the added benefit of not working against our ultimate goal!

As you can see, this has been weighing on me for a while now. Honestly, I am not saying to give up the walks outright without a plan in place, but it’s time to start thinking about retiring these paradoxical outings!  Yes, they make money, but I bet with a few tries we can come up with something that makes more money and raises awareness in a fashion where we aren’t literally making light of our own illness! You would never sit still for a newspaper article that called rheumatoid arthritis a “minor illness,” so don’t sit still for this. When I was at the J.A. conference two years back, I saw pictures of someone who hosted a Halloween party where people dressed up as skeletons and highlighted individual joints. It was called the Bone Bash or something clever like that, and it raised a good amount of money, too! I was so impressed! This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we need to inject into our local foundation chapters. Talk to them, see if they will try something new. It will be difficult, make no mistake. The walks have been a staple across the country for years. Fortunately, we only need one chapter who is willing take a chance, and if they are successful, others will take notice. Will you be the one?

Feel free to contact me for any event ideas, I have a million of them bouncing around in my rusty old noggin. Time to update our image, folks, and it’s on us to make it happen.