Bath Middle School student Lily Wright is raising money for Parkinson’s disease with her passion for running. (Nathan Strout/The Times Record)

BATH – Not many middle schoolers decide to spend their time trying to help cure a disease that affects millions of people. But that’s exactly what Bath Middle School student Lily Wright has done.

The seventh-grade student has gone above and beyond the standard requirements of a class assignment to practice advocacy skills. She has already run one race to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research and plans to run another one on New Year’s Eve. Already she’s raised $580 for the cause.

The impetus for Wright’s fundraising efforts came from an advocacy project assigned by her teacher at Bath Middle School, Maria Newcomb.

“The advocacy project is something I’ve done in the past, but I haven’t done it in the last three years. It’s basically an opportunity for the students to choose any topic related to wellness (and advocate for it), and I always encourage them to choose something they’re passionate about, something they care about,” said Newcomb.

It wasn’t difficult for Wright to think of an area where she had been personally affected by a health issue. Two of Wright’s grandparents have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

“It was the first thing that came to my mind,” said Wright. “I was like, ‘You know what? I should do Parkinson’s disease because not everybody knows about that.’”

Parkinson’s is a debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system. Over time, the disease impacts people’s motor skills and can eventually impact their behavior. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, more than 10 million people are living with the disease worldwide, and 60,000 Americans are diagnosed annually.

“There’s no cure for it,” said Wright. “There’s all these people who don’t have a cure and they’ve lost all their abilities to, like, do all the things they love, like running or working out somewhere.”

Wright said she has already begun to see how the disease has affected her grandparents.

“Over time, I’ve seen their abilities change. A few years ago, my grandmother took me on a trip to the Grand Canyon. She was so able and willing to do that with all of her grandchildren. Then she had a sickness come this August and that kind of made her take a step back,” said Wright. “That kind of made me sad.”

“My grandfather used to play squash. (He doesn’t) have the ability to do that anymore,” she added.

Wright knew what she cared about, but how would she advocate for it?

Students work on their projects one day a week on their project over the course of a semester, explained Newcomb, conducting research on the topic of their choice and developing their approach to advocacy. Some students chose to make a flyer or brochure, while others have written announcements to go out over the intercom. Topics range from raising self-esteem to fundraising for the Midcoast Humane Society.

Wright decided to draw on one of her passions for her advocacy project.

“I love running. I don’t know where I got that from,” said Wright. “I’m not on a track team or anything, (though) I like doing team sports. I do soccer and lacrosse and those involve running a lot.”

In September, Wright ran her first race–a 5K in Camden as part of the Camden Snow Bowl.

With some encouragement from her mother, Wright decided to kick her project up a notch using her love for running. Cutting through the noise of brochures and announcements, Wright set a goal to raise $500 for Parkinson’s research by running a 5K in November. All of the money raised would go to The Michael J. Fox Foundation to be used for Parkinson’s research.

“I thought I was not going to get close to that,” admitted Wright.

Still, Wright was committed to running the race–even though it was pouring rain on race day.

“When my mom told me it was raining, I was like, ‘Eh, whatever,’” said Wright. “She told me I was crazy and I was like, yup.”

Wright finished the race, raising $580 in the process, surpassing her original goal. She even got second place in her age group.

Inspired by that success, Wright has decided to continue running to raise money for Parkinson’s research.

“I immediately went online and asked, ‘What’s the next race I can do? It’s going to be so cold, but I’m doing it!” she said.

On Monday, December 31, she will be participating in the 5K Polar Bear Dip and Dash in Portland. Not only does that race involve running five kilometers in the Maine winter, it culminates in a quick dip into the ice-cold waters of the Atlantic in January. It’s not an activity for the faint-hearted.

“I’m psyched for it,” said Wright.

While that race is ostensibly meant to raise awareness of climate change, Wright will use it as the next step in her journey to raise money for Parkinson’s research.

Those looking to support Wright’s efforts and fund Parkinson’s research can donate at https://fundraise.michaeljfox.org/tf-2018/LilyfightsPD.

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