Lace up your walking shoes, the St. Paul Jayman Built MS Walk is back May 29.

After two years of virtual MS Walk fundraisers, St. Paul will welcome Lakeland supporters for a return to the in-person five-kilometre walk. St. Paul’s Brenda Rosychuk, Western Canada lead for the MS Walk, says she couldn’t be happier.

“You have no idea,” she said. 

“I think we’re all craving that in-person connection and it’s no different for MS Walk weekend. It’s a time to connect and a time to gather, and really a time to absorb what’s happening in the Lakeland region and in all of Canada with multiple sclerosis.”

The MS Society managed to quickly shift to a virtual walk in spring of 2020 with Covid-19 on the rise. The event was conducted virtually again last year.

Rosychuk says the St. Paul walk always had an upbeat community atmosphere, and she’s excited to see that spirit return.

“I always said the morning of the walk is kind of like Christmas for me. I walk into the Recreation Centre and I just get that goose-bumps feeling,” she said. 

“That was the feeling I had the very first year I started 11 years ago with my first walk, and this will be my 12th walk. But it was that exact feeling. It was a sense of community and a sense of people coming together.”

Prior to Covid, the St. Paul MS Walks had been attracting approximately 500 people from all over the Lakeland. Rosychuk is aware that with a couple of years off, the annual event might have lost some momentum.

This year the goal is attract 80 walkers and raise $50,000.

It’s all part of rebuilding the movement. The important thing, Rosychuk said, is to bring people together again.

“It’s definitely going to take some time for us to grow again. I think there is going to be a period over the next several years where we are needing to grow and needing to have these touch points for that connection,” she said.

“But I believe we’ll get there.”

The funds will help provide quality access and support for people with MS whichever community they live in, Rosychuk said. Programs like virtual wellness, peer support, and the national MS Knowledge Network are paid for through the MS Walk and other ongoing fundraising campaigns

“Also, of course, the funds raised provide that critical-mass research and services dedicated to achieving a world free of MS, and improving the quality of life for all people affected by MS. Having the groundbreaking research happening right here in Alberta is also great,” she said.

The event is billed as the St. Paul Jayman Built MS Walk, she said, but the participants over the years have come from all over the Lakeland. The funds will also benefit people all over the region.

“That’s what community is all about—knowing that we’re putting the person living with MS at the forefront of everything we do,” she said. Even taking into account the lost momentum from the Covid hiatus, Rosychuk is confident participation will rebound over time.

There was a silver lining to the virtual walks, she said, in that the MS Society learned they can still rely on donors and sponsors even when in-person events are suspended. But nothing beats the communication and awareness that come from getting together.

“We’re hoping we have the support of the communities surrounding us to step back in and to join us for an in-person walk,” she said. “Whether they know somebody living with MS or not, I think it’s just great to create awareness and raise funds for those living with us.”