Canada captain Christine Sinclair looks to score for MS Society of Canada

Canada soccer captain Christine Sinclair is stepping out of her comfort zone this summer.

That means everything from serving root beer floats to kicking burgers at goal in a bid to put the boot to multiple sclerosis. The 34-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., whose mother has MS, is joining forces with A&W to raise money for the MS Society of Canada.

According to the MS Society, Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the world, with an estimated one in 340 Canadians living with the disease.

Now in its ninth year, A&W’s “Burgers to Beat MS” campaign is the single biggest fundraiser for the MS Society having already raised close to $10 million. The restaurant chain hopes to raise another $2 million this year.

A&W will donate $2 from every Teen Burger sold across Canada on Aug. 24, augmented by other fundraising efforts.

Sinclair will be making appearances at A&W restaurants in Vancouver on Aug. 23 and Toronto and Montreal on Aug. 24 as part of the campaign. She will also be featured showing off her soccer skills with burgers in a video on A&W’s Facebook page.

“Being able to join this campaign, it’s massive for me,” Sinclair said in an interview. “All along I said I just want to be able to help and hopefully this is a start. Hopefully this is a start to be able to make a difference for those people living with MS.

“Hopefully years down the road people aren’t having to deal with what my family’s had to deal with and that’s my ultimate goal.”

Sinclair’s mother Sandi lives in a care home in suburban Vancouver.

“She’s doing well,” Sinclair said of her mom. “She loves the summer, she’s out and about every day now. She loves the sun.

“She’s proud of the journey that I’m starting.”

The fundraising campaign has also united the family, with Sinclair’s aunt joining her on the cross-Canada trip.

“It’s been amazing to see,” she added.

Since announcing in June that she planned to take a front-line role in the fight against MS, Sinclair says she has been amazed by the support she has received via social media and other channels.

“There’s so many people that are affected by MS that I had no idea. People that I know who have an aunt or a sister. So the support has been incredible.”

While Sinclair is used to the soccer spotlight, she has largely kept to herself away from the field. That has changed, with this new role.

“It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she said. “Because I am a private person, I keep everything to myself. But for me it’s good to step out of my comfort zone. Where I am in my career, I want to be able to make a difference.

“Yes, I hope that I inspire young kids to play soccer, play sports, to reach and dream big. I hope I’ve done that over these years. But I don’t want it to end when my career eventually does end. I want to have a lasting impact and hopefully this is something that can continue for years and years.”

MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord). The disease attacks myelin — the protective covering of the nerves, causing inflammation and often damaging the myelin, which is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses through nerve fibres.

The effects are wide-ranging and unpredictable: extreme fatigue, lack of co-ordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes.

The cause remains a mystery — the belief is lifestyle, environmental, genetic and biological factors all contribute.

The disease is most commonly diagnosed in people between 15 and 40. Women are three times more likely to develop MS than men.

Currently there is no cure.

“Burgers to Beat MS started with a small group of A&W operators wanting to make a difference,” Paul Hollands, chairman and CEO of A&W Food Services of Canada Inc., said in a statement. “Every year it has grown, making a real difference in helping those affected by this debilitating disease.”

Sinclair has carried the Maple Leaf at the Olympics, represented her country 259 times, scored 168 goals and led Canada to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals.

The Portland Thorns star was recently appointed to the Order of Canada, an honour she says that still leaves her near speechless.

“To be honoured by your country for what you’ve done over the course of your career is pretty remarkable,” she said. “I think it just goes to show the progress our team has made. We’re now in the forefront of sports in this country. We have an impact on people’s lives and we’re making a difference in continuing to improve and grow the sport.

“It’s been an honour to be a part of that journey. To be recognized (with the Order of Canada), I don’t know what to say.”

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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