Andrea Martin with her team of allies: Her husband Ryan Williams

Andrea Martin with her team of allies: Her husband Ryan Williams

Andrea’s Allies set to lead Comox Valley MS Walk

Ecole Robb Road teacher has raised more than $100k in past decade

  • Apr. 13, 2015 10:00 a.m.

Terry Farrell

Record Staff

Andrea Martin is a big deal when discussing anything relating to the  Comox Valley Scotiabank MS Walk.

With more than $110,000 raised in the past 10 years, she’s not only a champion of the cause, she’s  champion at the cause.

The MS Walk is an event Martin takes to heart. She deals with the subject every day. Andrea Martin has multiple sclerosis.

She has had a lot of help in raising $112,004.68 since 2004, for the North Island MC Chapter. Her team is dubbed Andrea’s Allies, and she starts them young.

A Grade 3 and 4 teacher at Ecole Robb Road, many of her “Allies” are either current or former students.

Young philanthropists

Although not on any official curriculum, introducing her students to philanthropy has become an important aspect of her teaching.

“Over the years, I always educate the kids about MS, and about my MS and the kids always want to help out,” she said. “Some of them, like Liam Court and Elijah Court, have been coming out every year with their families ever since I taught Liam, in Grade 2 – I used to teach Grade 2. So they have been coming out every year since and I think now Liam is in Grade 9.”

She’s even got some Allies who haven’t started school yet.

Her children, Danica (4) and Bentley (2), both donated funds to this year’s walk.

“This year we had a toonie party for both their birthdays and they set money aside specifically for the walk,” said Martin.

That has become somewhat of a trend among Andrea’s Allies.

“I have two students – Avik and Ankit Bakshi – who gave me an envelope with $350 in it from money they collected at their birthday parties. They decided they would ask for that instead of presents.”

And then there’s her husband, local Realtor, Ryan Williams, who has become somewhat of a personal corporate sponsor to Martin.

“Ryan has made it his goal that with every house he sells, a certain percentage goes towards MS and the walk,” said Martin. “He has been a huge part of my fundraising.

“Even my mother-in-law, Susan O’Boyle, who lives back in Nova Scotia, every year she does a great big fundraiser at her house, where she does a silent auction, for the MS Walk every year.”


Diagnosed in 2003

Martin was diagnosed with MS in 2003, as she was preparing for her wedding day. The one part of any wedding every bride shares is the desire that the day goes without a hitch. For Martin, her entire life had just been altered.

“I remember, it was a big shock for me,” she said. “I was always so healthy. I was big into sports. So I was a little bit in denial to begin with.

“I was back at my parents’ house in New Brunswick, two weeks before the wedding, and I was so sick, I was in bed the whole time. I couldn’t even get out of bed without feeling really dizzy and sick, and I remember thinking ‘how am I even going to walk down the aisle on my wedding day?’ A lot of things were going through my head. What if I can’t walk again? Really scary.”

Martin has what is termed relapsingremitting multiple sclerosis  – RRMS.

Whereas some forms of MS are of the progressive variety, where symptoms grow progressively worse, even crippling the patient, RRMS comes and goes, in spurts.

As described by the National MS Society, RRMS is characterized by clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function. These attacks (relapses) are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions), during which symptoms improve partially or completely, and there is no apparent progression of disease. RRMS is the most common disease course at the time of diagnosis.

Approximately 85 percent of people are initially diagnosed with RRMS, compared to 10-15 percent with progressive forms of the disease.

“I can go through a long period without having a relapse and then it will come back again,” said Martin. “You never know when it’s going to strike.

“Usually when I have a relapse, I get a tingling in my hands and my feet – they just go numb. Then I get what I call an MS headache. It’s not like a typical headache. It’s like my eyes don’t want to work with my brain and I just feel really off.”

She said that while the relapses can come with little or no warning, she has learned to adjust her lifestyle to set the attack into remission as quickly as possible .

“When I start to feel the symptoms, I really monitor what I am doing ,” she said. “I usually can catch it by paying close attention to what I eat and with stress levels at work, and sleep – sleep is a big thing.

“I don’t know whether I should use the term ‘lucky’, or ‘blessed’ but I have been really good for a while. There was one year where I had to stop working for quite  while, and that was tough.”

Top fundraiser

It’s been 12 years since Martin’s diagnosis, and for the past 11, she has been to top single fundraiser at the annual Comox Valley Scotiabank MS Walk.

“It’s amazing, the work she does for us,” said Cherie Kamenz, fund-raising co-ordinator for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, North Vancouver Island Chapter. “Our walk has changed greatly since Andrea started. The amount of funds that we raise has gone up, literally, from $30,000 to $45,000 (per year). So it’s a huge difference. It allows us to do a lot of things locally.”

Martin is hoping to raise another $10,000 this year. With 100 per cent of the proceeds from the Comox Valley Scotiabank MS Walk staying with the North Vancouver Island Chapter of the MS Society of Canada, there is tangible evidence of the Walk’s proceeds at work every day in the Valley.

“We have the one-on-one client services, where staff go out and help people deal with whatever it is they have to deal with, from forms to fill out, to the diagnosis itself,” said Kamenz. “We loan out equipment and provide funding for equipment for people who otherwise would not be able to afford it. Our library of books and DVDs are there to help people understand what they are going through. So there are a lot of ways you can see our Chapter at work every day.”

“That really is inspirational… if feels good when you see people in the community getting what they need. If I had a bit to do with that, that makes me happy,” said Martin.

To contribute to Andrea’s Allies, visit

Still time to register

The Comox Valley Scotiabank MS Walk is at the Courtenay Airpark – a safe, scenic, wheelchair and scooter-accessible route.

The route starts at the Cliffe Ave. – 20 st. entrance.

There are three walk distances to choose from – three, seven and 10 km. Dogs on leash are welcome to attend.

The walk itself starts at 10 a.m.

Arrive early and enjoy coffee, hot chocolate, a snack, entertainment and fun; after the walk stay for a hot lunch, music, recognition announcements and draw prizes.

Register in advance at or by calling 250-339-0819. Register as an individual or connect with friends, family and co-workers and start a team. (A team should comprise four or more participants, including a team captain.)

Last year, Comox Valley Scotiabank MS Walk participants raised $37,527.15. Proceeds from the Comox Valley MS Walk stay with the North Vancouver Island Chapter of the MS Society of Canada.

Kamenz expects approximately 150 walkers at Sunday’s event.

To register for the Comox Valley Scotiabank MS Walk as an individual or a team, or to donate to the Walk, go to

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often debilitating disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). MS can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance, coordination and mobility. Its effects are physical, emotional, financial, and last a lifetime.




–With files from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society