A leading camogie player, Waterford captain Niamh Rockett, is helping to raise awareness around arthritis that affects young people.

An awareness campaign, entitled “Don’t Give Up”, has been developed by Arthritis Ireland and highlights the importance of physical activity and mental wellbeing in living with a chronic condition.

Some 1,200 children and young people have juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) in Ireland. JIA is an autoimmune condition and can cause swollen and painful joints, impaired coordination, fatigue, high fever, rashes, and can also affect other organs, including the eyes.

It is important for children and young people with juvenile arthritis to keep active, and to keep their joints and whole body healthy. Physical activity helps to develop muscles to support their joints.

Niamh Rockett said that it was “a shock to the system” when she was diagnosed with arthritis at 16. She was playing camogie, hockey, football and soccer – and was told she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 30.

The PE and maths teacher said that she was also concerned over how her arthritis would affect her studies and her capacity to do her job.

Your mindset is really important, she said. “You need to surround yourself with positive people, who won’t put limitations on you.” Rockett said that her condition has made her more aware of not taking opportunities for granted, as well as “appreciating things more”.

Leaving Certificate student, Mary O’Donovan, was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at 13. The Cork teenager attends Christ King Girls’ Secondary School and plays camogie with Ballygarvan camogie club.

She has a positive message for anyone newly diagnosed with JIA. “When you’re diagnosed, it’s important to follow the medical advice, but live your life as well. If you can, don’t change what you’re doing.”

Gráinne O’Leary, chief executive of Arthritis Ireland, said: “It’s shocking to hear of children living with the pain, fatigue and destruction of arthritis. Yet, that is the reality for 1,200 kids, young people and their families in this country. It’s easy to forget too, that while we continue to wrestle with Covid-19, that the daily challenge of living with juvenile arthritis persists.

“Physical activity and sport are really important in maintaining muscle and joint function, as well as mental health and wellbeing. We’re so grateful to Niamh and to Mary for sharing their stories. I have no doubt that they will inspire other young people with arthritis to take part in and pursue their sporting dreams. Don’t give up, that’s the important thing,” encouraged O’Leary.

Information about juvenile arthritis – and other forms of the disease – is available on the charity’s website, www.arthritisireland.ie. Anyone looking for support can contact the Arthritis Ireland helpline on 0818 252 846. The charity has published an information booklet about living with juvenile arthritis, as well as an online resource pack for teenagers transitioning from paediatric rheumatology to adult services.

Don’t Give Up is supported by AbbVie.