Barbara Osen has fought severe rheumatoid arthritis so long and so successfully, with more than a dozen surgeries and revisions, that she often hears quips about being Bellingham's Bionic Woman.
Osen, 66, will be the special honoree Saturday, Dec. 8, at the 25th annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk, the Bellingham version of which she founded in 1988. However she figures the real honorees should be the thousands of participants and the dozens of volunteers.
It will be a sentimental Saturday for Osen, who retired last February as director of the North Puget Sound Branch of the Arthritis Foundation, a national organization.
Question: Barbara, what's special for you about this Jingle Bell?
Answer: I always stress how arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, can be a very scary, life-threatening disease. That's why I wish to dedicate the 2012 Bellingham Jingle Bell Run/Walk in memory of five special local volunteers whose lives were shortened by R.A.: Cay Earle, who died at 57; Joan Engels, 79; Ann Hanson, 71; Joann Miller, 79; and Jessica Saal, 32.
Q: Are you challenging locals to set yet another record?
A: Yes! The money we raise locally will help to fund life-saving research, since there is still so much we don't know about what causes arthritis. We had 179 participants in our first Jingle Bell. Last year we set a local record with more than 3,600 people, and we raised $165,000. We were the fourth-most successful of the more than 130 Jingle Bells held around the nation.
Q: What's special about all of that support?
A: We know babies born with health complications need human support and touch; otherwise they lose a will to strive. For me, Jingle Bell participants provide this metaphoric touch. It motivated me to work the best I could.
Q: Life turned out much differently than you expected, right?
A: I grew up in Poland and came to America in 1978 after meeting my husband, Rick, on a visit to Eastern Washington. He is now acting dean of libraries at Western Washington University. I got my bachelor's and master's (in aspects of geology) from Warsaw University.
I had my first surgery in 1983 and I started as a volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation in 1988. Three years later I became director.
In the past 29 years I've had joint replacement surgeries - two each! - on my ankles, knees, hips, elbows and shoulders, plus work on my hands. The most important thing to get over obstacles from all this was support I received from my family, my friends and from all you who keep coming back to "jingle' with us.
Q: How are you doing now?
A: I'm fighting what's called "giant cell arthritis," a problem with arteries. I've been undergoing treatment since August. I have to watch my weight, my blood sugar, my bone density. I'm also dealing with an irregular heartbeat.
JINGLE BELL RUN/WALK
On-site registration begins 7 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, and festivities start at 8 a.m., at Bellingham High School. The fun run for kids starts at 8:30, followed by the regular run and walk at 9.
Details: firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-733-2866.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.