More than 300 young women from across the country are competing in the 2019 U16 Girls’ Canadian fast-pitch championship in Calgary this week.
Alberta player Paige Simpson, in particular, is inspiring future generations of women in sport, proving despite living with a chronic disease, she can still follow her dream to be a high-level athlete.
Simpson is a 15-year-old shortstop playing at a high level for the Red Deer Rage team in this year’s fast-pitch championship.
You would never know it, but a year and a half ago, she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
“I didn’t know it existed for kids at all, it was just out of the blue and i was just shocked,” Simpson said.
Arthritis is an auto-immune disease where the body reacts and starts attacking itself.
Right now, the disease is affecting Simpson’s jaw.
“I take pills in the morning and pills at night, and every week I get an injection…it targets in my jaw and that has been working really good.”
The young woman is inspiring other athletes by showing the disease isn’t holding her back from her passion for sport.
“I don’t want to be defined by a disease, I’m just Paige,” Simpson said. “It’s not me, it’s just like something I have. I’m just pushing through it.”
Tricia Simpson, Paige’s mother, said her family discovered Paige’s arthritis after a trip to the dentist.
“We were going to get her braces and her dentist thought oh something’s kind of off with this x-ray so they sent her to a different specialist,” Tricia Simpson said. “The scariness is the unknown.”
Tricia said Paige doesn’t focus on the disease, it’s all about being able to play ball.
“It’s about how she plays the game and it’s about her teammates and the group as a whole,” Tricia Simpson said. “She (Paige) approaches it with such positivity and you know, there’s a lot of people that are out there that have it a lot tougher and so we’re just fortunate to keep it at bay.”
Suzan Valenta, from The Arthritis Society in Calgary, said it’s rare for a teen to have arthritis but it happens more than people realize. According to Valenta, six million Canadians are currently living with arthritis and 24,000 of them are kids under the age of 17.
“People think of it as a disease of the elderly, but it’s not, it can strike at any age,” Valenta said. “It is hugely incredible and important that we have this opportunity to raise awareness through this unfortunate situation with Paige.”
For more information about the symptoms of arthritis, visit The Arthritis Society’s website.
Some proceeds from the fast-pitch tournament are going to The Arthritis Society in honour of Paige.
The championship tournament at Shouldice Park runs for the rest of the week in Calgary. The opening ceremonies take place Wednesday at 6 p.m
“I’ve met some of my best friends playing ball,” Simpson said. “I wanna win.”