Multiple Sclerosis Walk to raise support and awareness

By Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative reporter

To coincide with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness month during May, the MS Society of Canada is urging everyone to lace up your shoes, grease up that bike chain, or break out those roller skates and get out on the town to support those living with the disease.

Due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MS Society has made this year’s MS Walk a virtual event, taking place over the course of the entire month rather than just one dedicated day. Participants can get out and get active doing any kind of activity they love to do in order to help raise awareness and funding for MS research. According to the MS Society of Canada, the country has one of the world’s highest rates of MS, with more than 90,000 people estimated to be living with the chronic autoimmune disease. The society explains that because MS affects the central nervous system, the effects can manifest as problems with vision, memory, balance and mobility. MS is also an episodic disability, which means the symptoms and their severity can ebb and flow over time. At this moment there is no cure for MS.

Becky Mitts is the senior director of community fundraising for the society, and explained that the annual walk is a community fundraising initiative that aims to raise money to help support research into MS and possible treatments and cures.

“The MS Walk has been around for more than 30 years in communities across the country,” Mitts said.

“Groups of people will come together because they want to take action. They’ve been impacted by Multiple Sclerosis and it’s an easy thing to do, to do a walk in your community and raise funds and awareness. That’s really it to its core. Most people who participate in MS Walk have a connection to MS, they live with it or have a friend or family member living with MS and so are really closely connected.”

In a year where the fact that nothing is normal has become the new normal, it’s no longer a surprise that community events like the MS Walk have gone virtual in order to deal with the lingering effects of COVID-19. Mitts explained that even though the MS Walk can’t be held in person with lots of people gathering together, the virtual event hasn’t dampened the support and enthusiasm people have for the cause.

“What it gives us is the opportunity to connect with the community across the country in different ways,” she said.

“People are still registering for MS Walks, they’re still getting involved in fundraising. We have a very active private Facebook group we invite all of our participants to join where people can introduce themselves and share their stories. That has been such an inspiring space.”

Mitts said that approximately 12 Canadians are diagnosed with MS every day, and those numbers haven’t gone away because of the pandemic, but one impact has been that those who are newly diagnosed might not necessarily have the same supports available to them then if the restrictions weren’t in place. Holding the virtual walk is therefore another way for those newly diagnosed people to see and experience the support that the larger community has for them, as well as connects them to the Society and some of its programming.

In order to heighten the experience of the MS Walk and make it celebratory and fun even in a pandemic, the MS Society is sending out commemorative walk t-shirts, and participants can also order what the society is calling the “Team MS Party Pack” to spice up their own private MS Walk event.

“If people want to do their own version of the walk in their backyard, or as restrictions allow with people in their bubble, we’re sending out these party packs that have an MS Walk sign and streamers and balloons and just ways to bring the event to your home or to your community, in whatever way that looks like this year,” Mitts said.

There will also be a celebratory virtual wrap up rally taking place at noon on Sunday, May 30 that will be broadcast on Facebook and the MS Society of Canada’s website.

Anyone interested in registering for the MS Walk or learning more about it can visit the society’s website at, by email at, or by calling 1-888-822-8467.

One additional resource, however, is that the MS Society of Canada has what they call “MS navigators,” support people who are there to talk with and give resources to those who have been diagnosed with MS and might not have the support they require, or just need someone to talk to about a life-altering diagnosis. The navigators are extra crucial during the pandemic, as different external factors like COVID-induced stress can cause flares or relapses of MS symptoms.

“MS is already such an unpredictable disease and then you put a pandemic that’s so unpredictable on top of that, and it just exasperates everything,” Mitts said.

“Whether it’s loneliness, isolation, physical symptoms you’re feeling, all of that is so heightened right now. We have an urgent need to support people living with MS. That is more urgent than it has even been because of COVID. We really want to ensure that if there are people living with MS in your community that they know they’re not alone. If people have questions, they’re looking for support or just need somebody to talk to, it’s there.”

The MS navigators are always online at, and Mitts said those who would rather speak to someone in person can call 1-844-859-6789.