When Jen and Keegan took off down the east coast, they expected a few bumps and bruises. What they didn’t expect is all of the people in the juvenile arthritis (JA) community they would connect with along the way. On their 1,400-mile tandem bike ride from home in New York to the JA Conference in Orlando, Jen and Keegan have managed to connect with — and even stay with — several families who are in some way affected by JA.
“There’s so much about this disease that makes you feel alone in this world,” says Jen, who was diagnosed with JA when she was 11 months old. “To connect with and try to bring people together is the whole point of the trip in a way.”
Day three of their 17-day trip was full of reminders of why Jen and Keegan are embarking on their ride — to raise awareness of JA. On a break in Delaware, Jen and Keegan met three families for breakfast, all of whom are living with JA in some way. The Reed family found out about Jen and Keegan’s ride through Facebook. Inspired, they drove two and a half hours from northeastern Pennsylvania — just to meet Jen and Keegan, as well as other families like them. Their 12-year-old son, James, was diagnosed with JA when he was nine years old.
“It didn’t matter how long the drive was to meet them,” says Jim, James’ father. “Meeting Jen and the other families was something we wanted to do for James so that he knows he’s not alone in this fight.”
James has arthritis in his jaw and enthesitis-related arthritis in his knees and ankles. He also experiences frequent chest pains and dizziness. Although you’d never guess it from his 96.4 grade point average, James was only able to attend 21 days of school last year because of complications from his arthritis.
“There are times when we feel dormant in the house because James’ aches, pains and fatigue really get to him,” says Jim. “James really wanted to go meet Jen and also the other children who have issues similar to his. We feel like at his age, it’s important to let him help choose the activities he does. He was dead tired, but he perked up when he got to meet Jen and the other families.”
James’ parents also hope that meeting up with Jen and Keegan will keep James’ spirits up.
“We hope that seeing Jen go on this ride will give James and other kids who are dealing with arthritis the confidence boost they need,” says Jim. “We hope they see that they can have arthritis and still do amazing things.”
While true that the meet-ups with families and friends allow Jen and Keegan a break from the challenges of the road, they also refuel them in a different way.
“I meet these families and children who are fighting so hard, and it helps me push a little harder,” says Jen. “I see the supportive emails and messages coming through on Facebook and on my phone, and it brings this trip to life in a different way. By following my journey online, families are coming together and connecting over similar diagnoses or living in the same area. It’s really more than I could have asked for.”
You can follow along on Jen and Keegan’s journey on their blog or on Facebook. You also can donate to their cause here. All proceeds benefit the Arthritis Foundation and their mission to conquer everyday battles through life-changing information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections.
To learn how you can connect with other JA families, click here.
Stay tuned as we follow them on their way!
- 1,400 Miles for 300,000 Children: Jen and Keegan Hit the Road!
- 1,400 Miles for 300,000 Children: Jen Bikes Down the Coast to Juvenile Arthritis Conference