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It’s been 16 years since Melissa Whitmell donned sneakers for long distance running.

But in early January, the 29-year old Barwick native will run her first competitive marathon ever--the Walt Disney Marathon in Orlando, Fla. with the Arthritis Society’s “Joints in Motion” training team.

“I won’t be doing the full 26 miles until the day of the marathon,” said Whitmell, who last ran for her school’s cross-country team back in grade eight.

“For now, I’ve been doing my own thing, starting off with 10-km runs.”

Her start in the marathon came in the form of her mother, Faye Morken, and mother-in-law, Becky, both of whom suffer from arthritis--and are Whitmell’s points of inspiration.

“My mother-in-law suffered from osteo and rheumatoid arthritis,” said Whitmell, herself a mother of two. “I just thought my doing this would be a great boost for her. She’s my arthritis hero.”

The Disney marathon is a world-class event which boasts more than 17,000 runners. Participants have the option of running or walking the half-marathon, or run the entire 26.2 miles.

This is the second year the Ontario Arthritis Society has gotten involved with the marathon. Last year, 380 provincial runners took part, including Cathy Kowal of Fort Frances, who raised almost $6,000 with her arthritis hero, Melvin Haukaas.

Kowal finished in 185th place out of 740 runners in her age category.

Dawn Larson, manager of revenue development for the Arthritis Society in Northwestern Ontario, said the program is a way to give would-be runners both a chance to do some charity work--and the extra incentive to try something they might have been only mildly considering.

“Most people think about [running the marathon] but very few actually do it. They don’t have to have running background,” stressed Larson, who had two newcomers enter and finish the full marathon last year.

“It’s the spirit to want to run.”

Whitmell has been very busy looking for the minimum $3,500 in donations needed to enter the race. So far, she has a little over $1,500. The funds will have to be registered by Dec. 4.

Once runners raise the funds, the Society’s corporate sponsors pay most of the travelling expenses.

“They’ve all been amazing,” Whitmell said on the donors and the Society, which have given her the information she needs when talking to the local businesses. “This is all new to me. It’s really been an eye-opener.”

But Larson said she has handled everything wonderfully thus far.

“She has been exceptional. She’s the perfect candidate--the type of person you know will get the race done. She’s more than open to doing that,” enthused Larson.

Whitmell added local runner Kerri Tolen has provided her on the basics of training for long-distance running. John Garland, a volunteer trainer from Thunder Bay, already has placed Whitmell on a more strict training regiment.

“It’s basically a feeling out process I have to go through with my body,” said Whitmell, a former volleyball and badminton player at Fort High who went on to play the college courts in New Liskeard.

“I’m finding out the hard way it starts with the foods you eat.”

Donations can be made at Pharmasave on Scott Street, the Arthritis Society Web site at, the local Bluebird club, or by getting in contact with Whitmell at 487-1415.

She and Larson also will give a presentation about the Arthritis Society to the Knights of Columbus here Nov. 8.

For more information on the Arthritis Society, call 1-800-268-9535.

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