Erica Johnson, the younger sister of former CSU track star Ashley Reid, passed away at age 19 from Lupus disease Oct. 25, 2013. In the face of her loss and the hardest time of her life, Reid decided to do something about it.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease involving the body’s immune system becoming overactive and attacking its own tissues and organs, including the skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. According to The Lupus Foundation of America, 1.5 million Americans have a form of Lupus. Though most suffer mild effects, 20,000 die from the disease each year, with 90 percent of those affected being women. There is currently no cure.
Last spring, Reid formed the idea of organizing an event that raises funds for medical research on the disease, and went to Rambition, the CSU athletic department’s network of female student-athletes meant for better connecting women athletes with each other and the community, for help. Everyone involved, from administrators within the athletic department and Rambition to many student athletes, welcomed the idea with open arms. Thus, the first annual E.R.I.C.A. Lupus Awareness Walk in memory of Erica Johnson was born and held on May 10, 2014.
With Reid leading, student-athletes from many programs participated in the one-mile walk on the CSU intramural fields, along with many other students and community members. Reid estimated that over 150 people walked, and said just under $9,000 was raised for the newly formed E.R.I.C.A. Lupus Patient Assistance Fund for patients of Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies.
This Sunday, the Lupus Awareness Walk returns to CSU on the IM fields starting at 11 a.m. Rebecca Dixon, a woman in the Fort Collins community who suffers from Lupus and a benefactor of the E.R.I.C.A. fund, will be speaking at the rally. Participating in the walk is free, however donations are encouraged, which follows the format of last year. Anyone, from students to anyone in the community, is encouraged to come walk and show support for those suffering from and affected by Lupus, such as Reid and her family.
The immediate success of last year’s walk was unexpected by Reid, but she was thrilled, as it allows for the continuation of the walk and installing it as an annual event.
“Last year, I was so shocked,” Reid said. “I am super excited, it’s something I looked forward to all year long, and I’m happy we can do it again. I expect to see a little bigger crowd, and I’m so excited to see what we can do with it this year.”
The E.R.I.C.A. acronym stands for Enhancing Research, Improving Constant Awareness. Lupus symptoms are common to other ailments, and as a result cases are often misdiagnosed and many of those who contract it lack knowledge of its effects or how to combat it.
“Last year, I was so shocked. I am super excited, it’s something I looked forward to all year long, and I’m happy we can do it again. I expect to see a little bigger crowd, and I’m so excited to see what we can do with it this year.”
“The awareness part brings the community together and also helps build that knowledge base for people to move forward if they do ever face a tragedy like Lupus or anything like that,” Reid explained. “It helps to have this knowledge base in the back of your mind if you do end up going through something like that, and that there are people in the community that will support you through various diseases.”
Donations to the E.R.I.C.A. Lupus Patient Assistance Fund help patients in the area under the University of Colorado Health Network, which includes Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, endure day-to-day costs of the disease.
“That fund is for direct patient assistance,” Reid said.
Costs for necessities such as medications, walkers and canes, coping therapy and even gas cards to help cover travel expenses for patients who must drive throughout the state for specialized care, can be covered by the E.R.I.C.A. Lupus Patient Assistance Fund.
But Reid says she is not too concerned with the amount of money raised Sunday.
“The main thing I’m looking for is the awareness and the momentum of just keeping it going on annually,” she said. “The funds will come.”
Reid’s illustrious track career at CSU, which ended after the 2014 spring season, allowed a connection with Rambition and networking the event throughout CSU athletics. Her fellow female student-athletes were enthused to help.
“Because (Lupus) has such a greater effect on females, it just means that much more to us,” said Adrianna Culbert, a senior hitter for CSU volleyball and a participant in last year’s walk.
The volleyball standout met Reid over a year and a half ago.
“Knowing someone whose life has been affected by Lupus, it definitely adds to the meaning of the walk,” Culbert said. “It’s awesome to help give back to a good cause.”
Along with its support of Rambition, the CSU athletic department has backed the Lupus Awareness Walk with both its monetary and marketing resources, according to Reid.
“They’ve done everything from offer the location and help us with marketing, they created fliers, they are helping to purchase the t-shirts we are giving out at the walk,” Reid said of the athletic department. “They have offered anything from financial support to emotional support throughout this whole process. I really appreciate them for that.”
Reid says she thinks her ability to start up an event like the Lupus Awareness Walk in memory of her sister exhibits the charitable and empathetic spirit of the CSU and Fort Collins communities.
“It speaks volume to the type of community we’re in right now,” she said. “CSU is a special place.”
After the conclusion of her CSU track career, which included an all-Mountain West honor in the high jump as well as an All-America honorable mention in 2013, Reid decided to stay at CSU as part of its faculty and is currently an assistant track coach, working with jumpers.
“I decided to stay on staff here, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else right now,” Reid said. “Everyone is so welcoming and willing to step up when people need them the most, and I saw that firsthand. I really do respect the heck out of this community.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.