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The Jingle Bell Run/Walk kicks off with about 500 people participating in the event at Heartland Community College on Sunday.

LORI ANN COOK-NEISLER, The Pantagraph

NORMAL — Someday, nine-year-old Emily Knoke hopes make it to Broadway. Her long-term goal is to act, sing and dance well enough that she will become a big star with lots of fans. She is off to a good start. Already she has had roles in productions of Cinderella and 101 Dalmatians in youth theater programs in her hometown of Champaign.

But it’s not easy. While Emily doesn’t lack enthusiasm, she gets tired easily when active. Jumping, running or even walking for long periods can wear her out. She also gets stiffness in her knees and ankles after being active.

Five years ago, she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis after persistent swelling in her right knee and left ankle. Physical exercise such as running or dancing is a challenge because she gets tired so quickly. It is painful and uncomfortable to sit on the floor for more than five to 10 minutes.

Yet, she still pushes herself, which was evident Sunday as the youth honoree for the 2015 Jingle Bell Run/Walk in Bloomington.

“I came last year and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I just want to help raise awareness and raise money to help with research.”

Final figures aren’t yet available, but officials were hoping to raise about $40,000 with Sunday’s walk/run held on a beautiful sunny day at Heartland Community College in Normal.

About 500 participants took part in the walk to raise money for research, education and government advocacy to improve the lives of people living with arthritis. That is about normal for recent years, said Arthritis Foundation Special Events Director Heidi Pio.

“We have been as high as 1,500 participants and we hope to achieve that again in the future,” she said. “We have had some years where the economy wasn’t so good, so we are rebuilding somewhat, but people are coming back in full force and this community is so supportive and we are grateful for that.”

Among the participants was a pair of friends who are regulars at 5K events. Beth Markwood and Jan Hill, both of Bloomington, walk for both exercise and charity.

“We have a large collection of T-shirts at home,” Markwood said.

But unfortunately, Sunday’s walk may be their last. Hill is moving to Georgia in December.

“We push each other and we have a lot of fun while raising money for some great charities like this one,” Markwood added.

But others may be there to pick up the slack, such as 11-year-olds Evan Schmid and Connor Moore, and their 12-year-old friend, Harrison Trask, all of Heyworth.

“This is my first time and it’s great to be able to practice for cross country and raise money and awareness,” Schmid said.

​Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow.

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Staff Writer

Staff Writer for The Pantagraph.

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