When Hunter Fleck of Red Deer was four years old, he came across a pamphlet advertising the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual nationwide walk.
“I knew my grandpa had MS and I knew I wanted to do something for him,” said Hunter, now seven.
Next Sunday will mark his fourth year walking for the Central Alberta MS chapter. He’s raised $4,000 since he started walking and is hoping to raise $2,000 more this year alone.
“Walking is great. I like it,” he said. “On my T-shirt last year it said, ‘Every step matters.’ ”
This will also be the first year Hunter’s brother, Bennett, five, joins the walk as part of the team Hunter has dubbed “Walk for Papa.”
“(I’m doing it) to stop the MS,” said Bennett. “Because Grandpa’s legs hurt.”
So far, Hunter has raised $995 from friends and family. Bennett has raised $195.
But for the past few years, the number of participants and the funds raised during the walk for MS have been dwindling and that has the boys worried.
“It’s definitely not shaping up to be our banner year,” said Ellen Geddes, Enerflex MS Walk co-ordinator. “In fact, we’re behind where we were for last year and even that wasn’t our banner year.”
As of this week, 414 Central Alberta walkers have signed up, said Geddes. Last year, there were 551 walkers and more than $140,000 was raised.
“We’re hoping for at least 500 and to raise $150,000 this year,” said Geddes.
The walk is the society’s largest fundraiser and a lower than expected turnout may impact the society’s ability to provide services directly in the area, she added.
“Our cry and plea is that if you know someone with MS, please come out and walk for them, and even if you don’t,” said Geddes.
Hunter and Bennett’s grandfather, David Radcliffe, said he’s been touched and overjoyed by his grandsons’ passion for the fight against MS.
“We walk together and it’s just really enjoyable, everyone coming together like that,” he said. “We’d like to see more people walking, more money raised.”
Radcliffe was diagnosed with secondary-progressive MS 24 years ago. For a time, he needed a wheelchair.
“I’ve have what I call relapsing remitting MS, but I’ve done really well and now I’m on an injection every day.”
Radcliffe, along with his grandsons and their parents, Radcliffe’s daughter Sarah and son-in-law Calvin Fleck, will be walking for MS on Sunday, May 27.
In coming days, the boys said they plan to put up posters to raise more awareness.
The walk will begin and finish at the Kiwanis Picnic Shelter in Great Chief Park. Check-in time begins at 7:45 a.m. for a 9 a.m. start time.
To register, visit mssociety.ca/alberta/scwalk-RedDeer.htm or call 403-346-0290.