Elora youth raising funds for autoimmune disease research

ELORA – Nate Sutherland is attempting to do something many of us would think is impossible – run from Elora to Toronto in a single day.

It’s not just for kicks, and it’s not part of his training either.

Sutherland is a speed skater with dreams of one day competing at the Olympics, so training is everything.

He recently completed his first year at the University of Calgary, where he’s combining kinesiology studies with speed skating training.

But this run is different.

The 19-year-old is running to raise money for Mount Sinai Hospital’s research into autoimmune disease.

“A lot of people in my life have these types of diseases,” Sutherland said in a phone interview. 

“It’s a disease that’s underfunded and under-researched but about two million people have it.”

Autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks the body. Your immune system can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells and attacks them all.

Autoimmune diseases include lupus, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, among many others.

Symptoms could include fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, digestive issues and fever.

Some of these diseases can be treated with drugs, others with ointments and creams, and others still with more invasive treatments like insulin shots or intravenous immune globulin – a blood product made up of antibodies that may help correct the immune system. 

But scientists aren’t really sure why for some people, the body turns on itself this way. 

And to the onlooker, it’s not obvious when someone has an autoimmune disease.

“This run is to raise awareness as well as funds for research,” Sutherland  said. “Autoimmune disease really is an invisible disease. But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean someone is not sick.

“We all have to be compassionate with others. Take a second and think,” he added.

“That’s why it’s important to build awareness.”

Louis de Melo, CEO of Sinai Health Foundation, could not agree more.

“Community fundraising initiatives like Nate’s play a crucial role in raising both funds and awareness for research,” de Melo stated in an email.  

“Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute is one of the top biomedical research institutes in the world and is tackling some of the biggest health challenges we face, including autoimmune diseases. 

“When a dynamic fundraiser like Nate steps up, they inspire the broader community to step up.”

Sutherland will make the 100km-plus trek on May 19.

He’s starting at 5am at Wellington Road 7 and 8th Line and expects it will take 12 to 14 hours to work his way to the hospital in downtown Toronto.

“It’s going to be a tough one for sure. 100km is a long distance to run. But it’s hard having an autoimmune disease as well,” he said. 

“I want people with the disease to feel supported too. This doesn’t get talked about much, and it should.”

Sutherland has started a GoFundMe page and already has raised close to $1,800. He’ll also be posting his progress on Instagram at @100kmautoimmune.

Visit gofundme.com for more information.