Elk River mother wins $10,000 Arthritis Family Scholarship

Special to the Star News

Did you know that rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 1.3 million Americans? Some of you may live with or know someone living with rheumatoid arthritis, like 42-year-old Elk River resident Nicole Jagodzinski. She has been awarded up to $10,000 for the 2011 UCB Rheumatoid Arthritis Family Scholarship, which will assist with her studies at St. Cloud State University.

“I do not remember living a day without rheumatoid arthritis (RA),” says Jagodzinski, who was diagnosed when she was a year and a half old. “But because my friends included me in group activities like baseball and roller skating, even if they were beyond my physical abilities I always had that sense of normalcy that every child wants.”

With this base of support, Jagodzinski excelled in school and began when she was young to volunteer with church groups to provide food to needy families. She also worked with the Arthritis Foundation Speakers Bureau to encourage others learning to live with the condition. Jagodzinski also benefitted from summers at Camp Courage in Maple Lake, a camp for adults and children with physical disabilities. “Many campers had significant challenges in their lives — multiple disabilities and severe physical limitations. Far more than anything RA could dish out,” Jagodzinski explains. She came to enjoy her time there so much that she became a camp counselor after graduating from high school and discovered how her experience with RA gave her a unique ability to understand others in need and help people facing “extraordinary life circumstances” find their own sense of normalcy.

She was inspired to become an occupational therapist and now focuses on clients with mental health challenges. Winning the $10,000 UCB Rheumatoid Arthritis Family Scholarship will allow her to begin graduate studies this fall at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud. She will study to become a college counselor and student development professional — roles she sees as essential in providing people with the support they need to realize their full potential.

Another bonus from her Camp Courage days: Jagodzinski is happily married to a fellow counselor she met there, and she sees her RA as a positive influence on her entire family: “My daughters have learned to be independent and helpful around the house, and my condition has given them a compassion and maturity that only life experience can teach.”

For more information about RA or the UCB Rheumatoid Arthritis Family Scholarship Program, visit www.ReachBeyondRA.com.