Cowichan Valley teen’s legacy lives on at MD walk

At this year’s Nanaimo Walk for Muscular Dystrophy there will be at least one smiling face absent

At this year’s Nanaimo Walk for Muscular Dystrophy there will be at least one smiling face absent, an ambassador for the cause from the Cowichan Valley whose compassion, kindness and “spunky sense of humour” touched many lives before ending all too soon.

Ross Wristen, 17, died in July from causes related to muscular dystrophy, a neuromuscular condition he lived with since early childhood. He is this year’s “Celebration of Life Ambassador” for the walk. Last fall, in his wheelchair, he led a team of friends and family at the walk in Nanaimo. They called themselves Ross’s Rollers, and this Saturday they are participating again in his memory.

“He led a very active life,” said his grandmother, Lynda Wristen. “He’s been involved with therapeutic riding since he was five. He was in band. He would have started Grade 12 his year.

“He was going to take graphic art this year. That was sort of where he was planning to go,” Wristen said.

Muscular dystrophy is a neuromuscular disorder mainly characterized by muscle wasting, weakness and loss of function, which is why many people with muscular dystrophy rely on wheel chairs. Wristen said some of the challenges Ross faced were the many misconceptions about persons with disabilities.

“What bothered Ross most was people saw him in a wheelchair and they thought [he had] a mental handicap — assumed they go hand-in-hand. Sometimes they talked to him as if he had a mental disability. So he would just try to steer the conversation in other ways. He’d never criticize anybody.”

Wristen said that thanks to Muscular Dystrophy Canada, which is the recipient of funds raised for the Nanaimo walk, Ross and his family were able to attend annual seminars at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. She said these were an invaluable opportunity for Ross to meet other people (young and old) who were also living with the disorder.

The association uses funds to conduct research, and also helped defray some of the costs associated with purchasing equipment for Ross’ family.

“I think funding for any handicapped person is a struggle. My daughter’s been through it for just about every piece of equipment he’s needed,” said Wristen. “The muscular dystrophy association has been a great help as far as monetary assistance goes.”

Ross’s Rollers come from all over the Cowichan Valley and as far away as Edmonton. Others who were unable to attend contributed money to their campaign, all of which goes to Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

Wristen said if anyone wants to make a donation to the organization in Ross’s name, the family would be very happy. But most importantly, she said, they want to spread the word about muscular dystrophy, which tends to get less publicity than charitable causes like Cops for Cancer or the Terry Fox Run. She said getting information out there is the most important thing to her.

“Information is key for any family that’s looking for help. They need a starting point, where to go and how to branch out,” she said.

Otherwise, her main piece of advice to a family with a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy: persevere. “Perseverance is key,” she said “Taking help wherever you can get it.”

The Nanaimo Walk for Muscular Dystrophy is being held Sept. 24 at Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo. Registration is at 12 p.m. and the walk begins at 1 p.m.