Plain City goes jingle-bell crazy for 3-year-old Maggie

Maggie Matessa of Plain City is the central Ohio honoree for the 2008 Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.

By the way Maggie Matessa zooms around on her bicycle and chases her older sister, one would never know she has systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

The 3-year-old is, well, a 3-year-old. She’s silly, she’s energetic, and, according to her parents, Angie and Tony Matessa of Plain City, she’s a trooper when it comes to the doctor visits, hospital stays and daily injections that come with her condition.

In other words, she’s a perfect person to motivate others to raise money to fight the disease. That’s why the Arthritis Foundation of Central Ohio tapped Maggie as their honoree for the 2008 Jingle Bell Run/Walk, which will take place on Dec. 6 in Columbus.

Maggie’s motivational powers have really taken hold in her hometown. Her neighbors have assembled a team called “Plain Fun.” The PTO at Plain City Elementary, where her sister, Emily, is a second-grader, has gone all out with a team called “Pioneers for Maggie.” Her grandmother’s office has a team, and her family is a big part of the team from Cardinal Health, a major Jingle Bell Run sponsor and Tony’s employer.

“People have really jumped all over this and run with it,” said Angie. “I’m really surprised. There are people we don’t even know who have taken an interest in helping out.”

The proverbial jingle bell got ringing when the Matessas sent a note to the PTO about the run/walk. PTO treasurer Tonya Grove latched onto it and sent it echoing throughout the Jonathan Alder School District.

“We sent out some e-mails and made some phone calls and put a blurb in our newsletter. We had know idea what to expect,” Grove said. “I’m just thrilled with the outpouring of support. It just took on a life of its own.”

The PTO’s “Pioneers for Maggie” team is 32-people strong and counting. They’ve raised over $1,200 so far and plan to run or walk on Saturday. They’ve also made light work of some of the pre-run preparations.

“We had to stuff 3,000 goodie bags to give to the runners and walkers,” said Angie, who is logistics chairperson for the run/walk this year. “We got it done in one night, instead of the two that were planned, because of all of the people who came to help from Plain City.”

The helpers included students, parents, Girl Scouts and Jonathan Alder Junior High cheerleaders.

“There’s just something about Plain City. We have been here for 11 years, and we know people are really supportive of one another, but we never would have expected this,” Angie said.

Several more Plain City youngsters want to be part of the event on Dec. 6. Anyone who would like to sponsor the entry fee for a student walker can contact Grove at tongrove@yahoo.com or 614-206-0559. Registration for the 5-kilometer run/walk is $30. Registration for the  Snowflake Run (for ages 3-10) is $12.

Anyone who participates on Saturday will see Maggie and her family wearing shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “I Run for Maggie.” They’ll also see them riding in a convertible at the head of the run/walk, as well as at the finish line handing out medals.

For more information, go online to www.jinglebellruncolumbus.kintera.org. The site includes a page dedicated to Maggie’s story, as well as entry details and information about this year’s special guest, Olympic gymnastics champion, Mary Lou Retton.

To learn more about the Arthritis Foundation, call 1-800-283-7800 or go to www.arthritis.org.

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