2023 California Coast Classic Honorees
Mary Michael Kelley
"Thank you so much for riding for me! You got this!"
Rylee, our Day 0 Mission Ambassador, is a 7-year-old second grader from Rocklin, California. She woke up with an unexplained swollen foot when she was 3 and doctors thought it was a sprain or an infection. Months later, based on a lengthy diagnosis of exclusion, her family learned she had ANA-negative oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis and uveitis, a rare form of arthritis that can result in vision loss. Rylee began a demanding regimen that included injections, infusions, pills, frequent eye drops, MRI exams, and blood draws that continues to this day.
Rylee’s first contact with the Arthritis Foundation was receiving her JA Power Pack, a care package with resources, books, and "Champ" the teddy bear. Her mother Carissa says Champ’s still part of Rylee’s injection routine, and that he really helps her anxiety. The Arthritis Foundation also gave Rylee’s family a scholarship to attend the JA Family Summit, where Rylee met another child with her condition for the first time. Carissa was brought to tears seeing the first time that Rylee didn't feel so alone, and she says the Summit inspired Rylee to share her story so other kids will know they are not alone with JA, either.
“Do your best, stay hydrated, and have fun knowing you are biking for a good cause!”
Stephen, our Day 1 Mission Ambassador, developed symptoms at the age of 2 or 3 and was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when he was about 4 years old. He’s been taking medications and going to physical therapy for as long as he can remember. The constant presence of arthritis has had a massive impact on how his life has played out. For example, when he was growing up, he couldn't play soccer or basketball like his peers did. This eventually led him to discover low-impact activities like swimming, water polo, and biking. These activities have helped his joints stay in remission and also allowed him to feel normal growing up.
Stephen learned about the Arthritis Foundation somewhat recently, and prior to connecting with it, he’d never met anyone else with a medical condition similar to his. He’s been inspired by the stories he’s heard and the people he’s met in his few interactions with the arthritis community. One of the main impacts of his connection to the Arthritis Foundation is how it has informed him and his family about strategies of living with arthritis and how to advocate for himself and others.
“Don’t let the mileage numbers scare you! My easiest day last year was the “hard” day with the Twin Sisters.”
Kate Tatar is our Day 2 Mission Ambassador and 2-year veteran CCC rider. She has rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that developed when she was 24, with intermittent pain and swelling in her feet, wrists, elbow, finger, and knee. After many tests and more than six months without a diagnosis, a rheumatologist confirmed she had RA and she was able to begin treatment. Her initial regimen offered little relief, but fortunately biologic medications have been very effective in managing her pain and flare-ups.
For Kate, RA means having to be very slow in building up training and working to listen to her body. She’s grateful for how much better her life is now, compared to the early days of her condition, but she acknowledges that the mental load of managing RA and handling the medical system is exhausting. She’s grateful for the support and practical assistance she’s received from the Arthritis Foundation, and particularly the CCC community, for everything from doctor recommendations, to tips for navigating insurance reimbursements, to saving money on food, and living her best life with arthritis.
"Thank you for being a voice for the 1 in 4 who have arthritis. It is because of people like you that show up, that give people like me hope in very dark times.”
Tisha Savage, our Day 3 Mission Ambassador, says that having psoriatic arthritis has shaped everything to do with her existence because in less than a year, she went from being able to do normal everyday tasks, to being disabled. After six years of unexplained symptoms such as psoriasis and inflammation, she implemented tools from webinars that the Arthritis Foundation provided, found resources on Arthritis.org and took action to get a diagnosis and treatment.
Tisha credits the Arthritis Foundation with providing resources online, a hotline to call when she needed support, an outlet to share her story with people that can relate to her, and a platform to speak out even more to make a change. She formed a team for her local Walk to Cure Arthritis this year and she plans to inspire others to follow in her footsteps, and be a Champion of Yes. She believes that having PA has made her stronger and shaped her into a better advocate to fight for the hundreds of thousands of people who journey with arthritis.
“Going through this experience together is always so special - thank you all for being valuable members of our arthritis community!”
Dr. Maria Vassileva, our Day 4 Mission Ambassador, is the Senior Vice President of Science Strategy at the Arthritis Foundation and a second year veteran rider of the CCC. She leads and directs all aspects of the scientific programs at the Arthritis Foundation. She also manages the Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee of volunteer experts, and is a member of the Foundation’s Executive Leadership Team.
Dr. Vassileva has dedicated the majority of her career to mission-oriented work as well as teaching, and is now excited to be involved closely in patient engagement activities, ensuring the needs and voice of people with arthritis inform the Arthritis Foundation’s decisions. She serves as a leading national voice for arthritis scientific research, drug development, and health equity for all people living with arthritis. In September 2022, she participated in her first CCC and was proud to have garnered the support of over 100 donors and to have finished every single mile of the ride despite being an inexperienced cyclist. She’s back with us in 2023 for her second tour.
“As I embrace my first CCC, I carry lessons of resilience, the strength of the human spirit, and the unwavering belief that even in the face of adversity, we can rise, we can conquer, and we can truly live.”
Caitlin West is our Day 5 Mission Ambassador and a first year rider on CCC. When she was 25, she started to experience relentless aches and pains; three months later, she learned she had psoriatic arthritis. With immunosuppressive medication, she regained control of her life, but then her insurance company stopped covering her medication and her condition roared back into her life, causing physical, emotional and mental pain. Caitlin became inspired to create a wearable device paired with a phone app to aid in managing her flare-ups.
A Champion of Yes, Caitlin challenged herself to bike 5 miles every day as a proclamation to all those battling Psoriatic Arthritis that they too had the strength within to conquer their demons. Caitlin says her journey with PA had been one of unexpected twists and turns, but it had also been a voyage of self-discovery and unwavering determination. The Arthritis Foundation has given her a balanced support system and the strength needed to be able to embark on the CCC.
“You can do anything you set your mind to.”
John Frazier, our Day 6 Mission Ambassador, has fatigue, intestinal issues, muscle and nerve issues, difficulty walking, joint stiffness, blurred vision, hip pain, difficulty bending down or twisting, and many additional symptoms that affect every aspect of his life. He was 27 years old when he was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. He’d experienced symptoms since he was a high school student, but didn’t know what it was until almost a decade later.
The Arthritis Foundation has helped John to connect with other people and know he’s not alone in his arthritis journey. He compares symptoms and learns about resources to help manage his health, including exercise, stretching, diet and nutrition, and medication alternatives. John’s experiences are described in his book Through the Pain, which is available on Amazon or Kindle.
Each year, Day 7 is dedicated to honoring our volunteers, who contribute to CCC on every level, from planning that begins more than a year before the tour, to making countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and everything in between. Our volunteer leaders and on-tour volunteers share their time, talent, and love to make CCC the Ride of a Lifetime and we are grateful for their support. The Recognition Ceremony culminates in the presentation of the Billy Stone Volunteer Recognition Award. Billy was a dedicated, energetic, and funny CCC volunteer and the beloved husband of rider Suzy Stone of Team Billy, and each year his name and spirit lives on in a peer-elected volunteer.
“Have fun, enjoy every moment, and keep going, knowing you are working toward raising funds for the Arthritis Foundation and ultimately finding a cure.”
Jill Konopka, our Day 8 Mission Ambassador, learned she had rheumatoid arthritis when she was 27 years old and recalls it was the scariest moment of her life. Jill had always played sports, including Division III Collegiate athletics, and she struggled with the fact that RA is an invisible condition. It didn't make her look like she had anything wrong from the outside.
Jill connected with the Arthritis Foundation shortly after her diagnosis and made wonderful lifelong connections through it. She participated in different Foundation events and met other people who fight for the arthritis community. She utilized resources on the Arthritis Foundation’s website: articles, podcasts, and webinars and it has helped her feel less alone and supported by a community.
Since her initial diagnosis, Jill has refused to let arthritis get the best of her. She’s completed 16 marathons to date and she’s become a certified personal trainer, a yoga, a spinning and a HIIT instructor. She lives life to the fullest and learns and grows each day, by never allowing arthritis to rule her life.
2023 Mission Ambassadors
|Mary Michael Kelley