During her senior year of high school, Ann Rejrat saw her sister’s health start to decay.
“My sister got really sick … and she was young, so it was weird because I had already seen her be super athletic and really healthy,” said Rejrat, a senior journalism major. “She was at the point where she couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat anything or pick anything up.”
Her sister Krystyna, then 25, began battling multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, damaging healthy nerve endings and interrupting communication between the brain and the rest of the body. MS can lead to vision loss, impaired coordination and pain, among other effects.
For the third year in a row, Rejrat organized “Swim for MS,” an event geared toward raising awareness and donating money for MS research. Inspired by her sister, and with help from Campus Recreation, the annual Swim for MS event will be held tomorrow in Pearson Hall’s pool 30.
Krystyna Rejrat graduated from Temple in 2004, and she was a member of the women’s rowing team. This year, in honor of her sister’s athletic achievement at Temple, Rejrat asked the women’s rowing team to participate in the event.
Rebecca Grzybowski, coach of the women’s rowing team, along with her team had the opportunity to meet Krystyna Rejrat and hear her story in late February.
“It was a really powerful moment for them to listen to someone who has been in their shoes as a student-athlete and then [hear about] the way she used her experience at Temple to get through something that was very challenging,” Gryzbowski said. “We are very aware that we are where we are because of the women who came before us. … Any chance we get to reconnect with [alumni] on a personal level is important to us.”
All of the proceeds raised by the Swim for MS event will be donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, an organization providing free services, like mobility equipment and cooling accessories for heat-sensitive people, to those battling MS.
Maya Johnson, a senior psychology major and member of Campus Recreation’s Community Service CREW, has helped Rejrat organize the event for the last two years.
“Ann makes it a very universally important event,” Johnson said. “She wants to help all people with MS and not just specifically her sister. I think that it’s so cool she sees the pain that MS has brought to her family and she doesn’t want other people to feel that way.”
The event is open to students and faculty at Temple, and there are several ways people can help fundraise to fight MS.
“We’ve had people get pledges for donations for how many laps they want to swim, and we’ve also had people who haven’t been in the pool in a while and are like, ‘Hey, I’ll sign up and get in the pool for like, the first time in two years,’” Rejrat said. “It really is about what the person [participating] wants to make out of it.”
From the inaugural year of Swim for MS to the following year, Rejrat said the success of the event—and the amount of donations—grew tremendously. She hopes to see even more growth tomorrow.
But the event benefits Rejrat in more ways than just making donations, she said.
“Having my sister have a disease that has no cure and she has to accept that in a few years she could be bedridden and she can have a shortened life span … it’s scary,” Rejrat said. “That’s why the MS event is a way for me to kind of cope with it and be able to help her out and people like her.”
The event also helped Rejrat connect with other people in the Temple community who have faced similar struggles.
“My first year doing it, I hadn’t really known anyone affected by MS … and a lot of people came up to me after they swam and thanked me,” she said. “They started telling me their stories about their aunts affected or their uncles affected or they lost their sister to MS.”
“So, that first year was kind of a big wake-up for me,” Rejrat added. “Hearing other people’s stories gives me a little more motivation to try and help out and raise more money every year.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at email@example.com.