- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

LEDGEVIEW, Wis. (AP) - Lily Laurent doesn’t know of many kids who have some of the same physical challenges she has faced the past few years.

As her mother Anne explained, 8-year-old Lily has endured some mornings of not being able to stand up straight when she gets out of bed because of the stiffening of joints. Lily is one of about 6,000 children in Wisconsin - and 300,000 nationwide - who have juvenile arthritis.

“It’s hard, especially when she has a twin sister who can do anything she wants,” Anne told Press-Gazette Media (https://gbpg.net/1OynVRF ).

Lily hasn’t allowed the inflammation and pain in her knees, feet, elbows, shoulders and neck to keep her from staying active as a kid. She loves sports as much as she loves to read, create art and tackle math problems in school.

Playing golf with her father, Steve, a onetime high school state tournament golfer at Luxemburg-Casco, is a summer pastime for Lily. And, she has drawn inspiration from one of the world’s greatest golfers.

Lily has a framed photo of Phil Mickelson in her bedroom. Mickelson signed the photo that was sent to Lily after she wrote a letter to him in summer 2014.

Lily let Mickelson know she likes watching him play when her family of five regularly watches the pro golf tournaments on TV. She also filled him in on why she has admiration for him, on and off the golf course.

“Because he’s lefty and he has arthritis,” said Lily, who, like the legend nicknamed “Lefty,” hits the golf ball left-handed.

Previously reluctant to share with others the many body aches she has endured after being diagnosed with arthritis at age 4, Lily is on a mission to educate and, like Mickelson does for her, inspire others.

The Arthritis Foundation Upper Midwest Region named Lily its Youth Champion for the 2015 Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis event in Green Bay. The annual winter fundraiser for the regional agency was Dec. 5 at UW-Green Bay’s Kress Events Center.

“Each year for the Jingle Bell Run, we ask a local child or adult with arthritis that has been involved (or) active in the community to help us raise awareness,” said Phil Melnarik, community development director for the Arthritis Foundation’s Green Bay office.

Lily Laurent is taking her ambassador role seriously.

She was set give a speech before the Jingle Bell event to the expected 800-plus participants. Among them were to be a team of more than 100 family, friends and community supporters for Lily who have raised in excess of $5,000 for the event, which brings in tens of thousands of dollars each year.

“She’d like to help other kids (with arthritis) because she knows what they feel like,” Anne said.

Weekly injections of methotrexate have allowed Lily to feel like a normal kid most days, her mother added. Lily also overcame a personal hurdle in October by giving an enlightening presentation to her third-grade class, letting more than 20 kids know she has arthritis but isn’t any different from any of them.

“We’re waiting for the day where we can tell her she doesn’t have to take that medication anymore or that they found a cure and she won’t have to worry about passing it on to her kids someday,” Anne said.

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Information from: Press-Gazette Media, https://www.greenbaypressgazette.com

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