Team up for the 2016 Walk for Muscular Dystrophy

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TheScientistsThe Walk for Muscular Dystrophy (#Walk4MD) season is revving up! Every year, hundreds of individuals and teams participate in Walk for Muscular Dystrophy events across Canada, joining together to work towards a common goal—raising funds and awareness for neuromuscular disorders.

Teams lie at the heart of Walk for Muscular Dystrophy, and we welcomed many great teams during the 2015 Walk season. Many teams get creative and arrive decked out in special team t-shirts or costumes, showing off their pride in each other, the Walk and our common cause.

One team that took it to the next level was the Scientists. Named for their work in “the Labs” (as they call the collection of four different labs at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the University of Toronto where they work), the Scientists consist of graduate students, research staff and faculty who study various muscular and neurological disorders. Recent winners of Muscular Dystrophy Canada’s 2015 Ontario Regional Researcher of the Year Award, the Scientists will be returning to the Toronto Walk event for their third season. Their goal is to surpass their $5,000 fundraising goal from last year.

The Scientists have been very influential at the Toronto Walk event, so we asked team member Daria Wojtal about the team’s motivation and what makes them such a success.

“Making a difference”

10325555_10152104787893316_6600736176668095951_nThe Scientists were created in 2014 by founding member Dwi Kemaladewi, a postdoctoral fellow in the Cohn Lab at SickKids who had served on the organizing committee for the Toronto Walk for Muscular Dystrophy in 2013. It was Dwi who introduced Daria to the group. “I joined because it provided me with the opportunity to be involved in making a difference for patients beyond my regular work hours in lab,” she says.

Daria feels that the desire to make a difference is a big part of what drives the team. “Our motivation is to contribute to the larger muscular dystrophy community. We are immersed in our genetic research on a daily basis, often working until midnight. We want to participate in the Walk on our personal time to be reminded why we do what we do and who it is for.”

For Daria, however, there also is a personal connection. “I have three cousins suffering from a rare genetic disorder for which there is no cure and very limited supportive care. I have always felt a sense of helplessness. I saw their pain and suffering over the years, but there was no curative treatment for them, as is the case most genetic disorders.” It was this experience, in fact, that led her to pursue a PhD in genetic research, and she now studies gene editing as a potential therapy for neuromuscular disorders.

Organizing the team and raising funds

20487891036_7c9a7dfba2_kTeam Captains are essential to keep the team’s goals in reach. For the Scientists—who are spread through their respective Labs—Captains are particularly important. Daria describes the breakdown of roles within the team:

We generally have one or two representatives from each lab as the Co-Captains. This helps us organize our large group. All of our team members participate in fundraising initiatives and science activities that we run during the day of the Walk. Our workplace at SickKids is special: even though we are divided into specific research groups, we collaborate…on a daily basis, so creating the Walk team was just…an opportunity for us to continue working together in a different capacity.

Part of a team’s role is fundraising, and after several years of practice, the Scientists are veterans at pulling off fundraising events. “We try to think outside of the box when we organize fundraising events,” Daria explains. In the past, the team has held a raffle for elaborate gift baskets with various humorous themes (such as the Student Survival Kit, Principal Investigator Survival Kit and Spa Date), but last year was different. “Instead of a Bake Sale, we had a Healthy Brunch Sale,” says Daria. “Our homemade healthy options included yogurt parfaits, fruits and veggie baggies, lasagna…it was a huge hit!”

Team members are not just fundraisers —they also help with the organization of the Walk. Daria has been a part of the planning committee for over two years. She reaches out to local businesses for raffle prize donations and meets with the other committee members to discuss the logistics of the Walk. She also helps out at the Walk.

The day of the Walk

20327407579_e09d8bc1fe_kOn the day of the event, the Scientists do something unique: they set up a booth and invite everyone to get involved in science! As Daria explains,

last year was the first time we ran the Science-for-Kids activity. We built DNA molecules out of sweets and extracted cheek DNA that was put into vials that the children could take home with them. The wide-eyed curiosity and excitement of our youngest participants and even their parents was the best! Science can be a complex unknown for even scientists themselves, so these tangible experiments help start explaining some of the intricacies behind the genetic disorders that have affected participants of the Walk in one way or another.

Clothing also can be very important. Teams often differentiate themselves from each other and instill team spirit by getting creative with what they wear. True to their name, the Scientists wear lab coats at the Walk! “It helps unify the team and gives us a sense of purpose,” Daria says. “We also have some very loud and dynamic members on our team who help pump up the energy during our fundraising events and the Walk!”

The atmosphere that teams provide at the Walk events is truly something to see—and it is even better if you are participating! We would love to see you and your team at a Walk for Muscular Dystrophy event. Say “I Can!” Add your team to the Walk4MDthis year and make a difference. You can sign up here.

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