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Last fall Shelby Knispel, a sophomore at UW- Eau Claire, was reading her Arthritis Today magazine when she saw an ad for a Jingle Bell 5K in Eau Claire. The run was just a month away and Knispel thought to herself, “I have to do this,” she said.
Her involvement with the fundraiser started then, and now Knispel will serve as the honoree for the event this December, but her involvement with arthritis started two years prior.
As a junior at Stoughton High School, Knispel was healthy and an avid part of her school’s cross country and track teams when she began experiencing pain in her left wrist.
Chalking it up as an aftereffect of all the push-ups she’d been doing at practice. Knispel said she ignored the pain until its persistency pushed her to see a doctor.
“The doctor said I probably had arthritis,” Knispel said. “I went to therapy for four months and my pain had gotten into my other wrist and fingers and my therapist said tendonitis doesn’t spread, that’s not good.”
It was then Knispel was referred to a rheumatologist who confirmed that she had Rheumatoid arthritis. Knispel’s mother, Mary Knispel, said the news was devastating and scary, mostly because of the unknown.
“I didn’t realize at first the extent of what she had and it was scary because we didn’t know a lot about it and how it would affect her,” Mary Knispel said. “When it first started we thought it was just some tendonitis in her wrist and then all of a sudden we found out it’s an autoimmune disease.”
According to the Arthritis Foundation’s website, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 27 million Americans.
Symptoms usually include pain, stiffness and swelling in and around the joints. It can make daily activities more difficult.
Shelby Knispel said despite common perceptions, arthritis affects people of all ages, which is something it took time to come to terms with.
“At first it was really hard because I was 17 and I was like this shouldn’t be happening to somebody who is 17,” Shelby Knispel said.
The disease, which Shelby Knispel will most likely live with for the rest of her life, isn’t enough to get her down, Mary Knispel said.
“She just didn’t give up and I think that helped me stay positive and support her,” Mary Knispel said. “It affected her schooling because she would wake up in the morning in such pain that she many times had to miss her first class of the day. But she was determined to get up and get ready. It just took her a little bit longer, but she just didn’t give up.”
Even when it came to athletics Shelby Knispel did what she could to stay involved with the sports she loved.
“She would still go to track practice and do what she could there,” Mary Knispel said. “Same with cross country, she was a varsity runner but she ran junior varsity her senior year because she just couldn’t run the way she used to. She just didn’t give up.”
Pat Schneider, Shelby Knispel’s high school cross country coach said she was al
ways a great person to have at practice.
“She was always an upbeat and hardworking athlete. She is a very determined person,” Schneider said.
Schneider said Shelby Knispel’s natural talent was sprinting but she still put in the work to be a good cross country athlete.
“She made the most putting in her time to put in the distance and build up endurance to run distance,” Schneider said.
Schneider said from a coach’s standpoint, it was devastating to see Shelby Knispel have running taken away from her after seeing her be committed to the sport throughout middle school and high school. Despite adversity, she remained positive, Schneider said.
Shelby Knispel said she relies a lot on the support of her family and friends, like boyfriend Zach Hershey, for support.
Hershey, also a sophomore, and Shelby Knispel started dating in high school before she was diagnosed with arthritis. Hershey said it has been hard to watch her go through it, but he tries to make her happy and support her.
“She stays positive,” Hershey said. “She works her best to do everything she can and not let her disease get to her.”
The Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis is the nation’s largest holiday 5K race series aimed at fighting arthritis.
In the last decade, the Jingle Bell Run/Walk has raised more than $40 million, with over 150 events annually throughout the country.
Eau Claire’s Jingle Bell event is in its eighth year and raised about $22,000 last year, said Jennifer Hagerman, the local event
coordinator and race director.
Mary Knispel experienced her first Jingle Bell Walk/Run last year in Eau Claire and was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, she said.
“There were a lot of students and other people from the community,” Mary Knispel said. “I was surprised especially given the time of year. It was very festive, there were a lot of people that were doing it together. People had costumes on and it made it very festive and a lot of fun.”
The event features a best costume contest which is “a really fun, festive event to kick off the holiday season,” Hagerman said.
After experiencing the lively atmosphere, Shelby Knispel said she wanted to do more, which led her to be this year’s honoree.
“Afterwards, I emailed the event coordinator and asked what e
lse I could do to help and be involved. They called me this summer and asked if I wanted to be the honoree this year and I was like ‘yeah of course,’” Shelby Knispel said.
As the honoree, Hagerman said Shelby Knispel is helping spread awareness throughout the community.
“I think having an honoree like Shelby really helps people to connect to arthritis. Being able to share her story has the ability to inspire people. It’s great that she is willing to connect with others and share her story to spread awareness that at any age people can get arthritis,” Hagerman said.
Mary Knispel said she was excited to hear about her daughter being the honoree after she worked so hard this year and last to recruit people for the event and raise money for the foundation.
For Mary Knispel it’s another example of her daughter’s determination and unwavering positive attitude.
“It is such an important foundation, there are so many people out there of all ages that have different types of arthritis,” Mary Knispel said. “I don’t think that it gets the coverage and attention that other causes do and other health issues do. People don’t realize how debilitating it is of all ages,”
As the honoree, Shelby Knispel will give a speech to the crowd on the day of the event, which is an example of how she has chosen to cope — with openness.
“Luckily I am comfortable being really open about it,” Shelby Knispel said. “Some people aren’t and then they just get worried and more anxious. I have found it helps to talk about it. Reaching out to other people going through the same thing helps a lot and helps normalize the
Along with giving a speech to the crowd, she has been putting up flyers around town with Hershey’s help. Hershey has also helped by talking about the event
to his classes.
“I feel like it’s important because people out there running for people that they knew who have arthritis,” Hershey said. “People last year were just having a good time to raise money to support their friends.”
Staying active, eating healthy and medications, treatments and therapy are all part of Shelby Knispel’s daily life in order to keep living her active life with minimal pain, she said.
For the last year and a half, Shelby Knispel has been treated with chemotherapy, which she takes a low dosage of every Sunday at home in pill form. She said she has been able to handle the intense medication well so far without losing her hair or becoming ill.
Since her journey with arthritis first began, Shelby Knispel said she hasn’t lost sight of her dream that started in high school: to be a part of the Eau Claire track team.
Despite never visiting campus before committing to the university, Shelby Knispel knew she wanted to be a Blugold based on the high reviews from coaches and teachers. Last week she started making progress towards her dream.
“I just started running again,” Shelby Knispel said. “I do 5K’s every once and a while, but this is the first time I have gotten back into a workout routine that is hopefully going to stick.”