To raise awareness about arthritis through a senior project for school, 17-year-old Katie Gent, a student at Exeter West Greenwich High School, is holding a Bowl-a-thon at AMF Cranston Bowl Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
An avid bowler, she teamed up with her stepmother Crystal Hagemoser, a coordinator of local bowling tournaments, as well as Renay Houle of Warwick, a volunteer for the Arthritis Foundation, to better inform people of the disease. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Arthritis Foundation.
“Not many people know about the Arthritis Foundation and I am a bowler with arthritis, so it brings it to the attention of people and gets it in their heads that there is this disease called arthritis,” Gent said.
With at least 125 arthritis-related diseases in existence, it is the number one cause of disabilities in Rhode Island and across the country. The disorder impacts 50 million adult Americans and 237,000 Rhode Islanders, plus nearly 300,000 children nationwide, including 1,000 Rhode Island youth. There is no cure.
Since Gent was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was 5, she hopes her efforts will educate her peers and others about some of the things she deals with.
“They know I’m the girl with arthritis and it will be good for them to actually understand what I have,” Gent said. “They know I have it, but they don’t know what comes with it and what I go through to control the disease.”
Gent has been able to keep her symptoms at bay due to medication. While she feels pain from time to time, her condition doesn’t restrict her much.
However, it has impacted her growth. At 5’4” tall and 100 pounds, she’s small for her age.
“People think that she just happens to be thin and they tell her, ‘You need to eat,’” Hagemoser said. “That’s not the case. It’s the disease.”
But Gent doesn’t let it upset her.
“It’s something I have to deal with,” she said. “I don’t have as much strength as I should and my hands aren’t great, so that can be a factor. Other than that, I’ve been able to go about life pretty well.”
It also doesn’t stop her from bowling. On weekends, she’s a regular at Kingstown Bowl in North Kingstown.
“That’s why I wanted to do the bowl-a-thon,” she said.
“My parents bowl, my brothers bowl, family friends bowl. I’ve made a lot of good friends through it. It’s something that I’m able to do. It would be hard for me to get into basketball and such. I have fun doing it.”
At times, she has trouble bowling, as her fingers tend to hurt.
“My thumb might swell up more so than somebody else’s would,” Gent said. “There are certain inserts you can put into your bowling ball, but I can’t use them because of the way my fingers are. But it’s still something I can work around.”
Hagemoser, who has been involved in the bowling community for 30 years, is Gent’s project manager. She is also the youth coordinator for the Youth Travel League that participates in tournaments across Rhode Island, is a coach in North Kingstown for a youth league and helps operate a travel league during summer months.
“It’s just something that I love,” Hagemoser said.
Houle and Hagemoser plan to help Gent obtain information for her research paper on the topic. The assignment is a required part of the project.
“We’re almost going to become co-mentors once we start getting into the research and awareness parts,” said Houle, an employee of Bank Rhode Island. The bank is also promoting the event.
Like Gent, Houle suffers from arthritis. When she was diagnosed at 13 in 1976, doctors didn’t have medications they now have access to. Back then she was prescribed Aspirin, gold shots and bed rest.
These days, physicians prescribe medications such as Humira and Methotrexate, which is used for cancer patients. Both drugs are taken intravenously. Gent takes Humira bi-weekly, and Methotrexate once a week.
Gent and Houle agree that they are unable to administer the shot to themselves, as it is too painful. Fortunately, said Houle, oral drugs will soon be available.
“We’ve come a long way as far as research and medications,” Houle said. “I’ve seen so many breakthroughs through the course of my disease. When I was diagnosed, it was no gym, which is the total opposite of today.”
When Houle had her first knee surgery, she was hospitalized for nearly a month.
“I’ve had 21 surgeries,” Houle said.
Today, it is treated as outpatient surgery. Such is the case with Gent. When she had surgery on her toes three years ago, she was in and out the same day.
Gent said it brings her hope to hear Houle discuss the medical advancements.
“In the span that she’s had it, they’ve had so many great things happen that it can only get better,” Gent said. “I can only imagine that in the next 10 years there are going to be more things there to help.”
Additionally, she’s grateful for the medication she’s on, as it helps keep her arthritis under control. Yet, every now and then she wakes up in the morning and has to walk around her room to get pain out of her body.
“Then, I’ll be fine,” Gent said. “If I’m writing a lot in school, sometimes my hand starts to cramp up a little bit more than somebody else’s would. But the medications are miracle workers.”
In the future, Gent hopes to attend Rhode Island College to major either in elementary education or social work.
For now, she’s happy to be working as a cashier at S and T Hardware in Coventry. And, of course, she’s looking forward to Sunday, as are Houle and Hagemoser.
“Our entire bowling community will be there,” Hagemoser said.
The event, which will take place at AMF Cranston Bowl at 1450 Elmwood Avenue in Cranston, is $20 for unlimited bowling for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Shoe rentals are free of charge.
Check donations can be mailed to 1351 South County Trail, Suite 310, East Greenwich, R.I. 02818 c/o Crystal Hagemoser. Donations can also be delivered to AMF Cranston Bowl.