JERSEY CITY, NJ - Back in the early 1990s while organizing a team to raise funds for the annual MS Charity Walk, one of the founding members was a huge fan of the Star Wars movie. Seeking to create a name that incorporated the movie theme, while keeping in mind what the event was about, they came up with Luke SkyWALKER and the Wookies - using capital letters to emphasize the fact that this was a charity walk.

Each year the team leader would be SkyWALKER and those who accompanied him or her were the Wookies.

“Star Wars will be relevant a hundred years from now,” said Craig Chomiak, one of the founding members of the group and co-captain of this year’s team, punctuating the place in pop culture the iconic franchise holds.

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Walk MS is the premiere fundraising event of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The event, which is held in all 50 states and attracts over 250,000 participants, raises millions of dollars for MS research and programs each year. In the past, as many as 5,000 people have come out for walks in more than a half dozen locations throughout Northern New Jersey.

This year's Walk, while being held virtually on Saturday April 24 after being canceled locally in 2020, will be the 29th consecutive year Luke SkyWALKER and the Wookies will participate in this event. 

“Over these 29 years we have raised $572,148.70 towards stopping disease progression, restoring what's been lost, and ending MS forever,” Chomiak said. “Our team is currently ranked 1st in total fundraising dollars for the Jersey City walk location and 4th Chapter-Wide.”

Chomiak’s own symptoms have progressed to the point where he can no longer walk, he said, but he will be home “managing” the team that hopes to raise $38,000, an all-time high. To do that, he said, they are not just asking team members to make donations themselves, but also to seek donations from people they know, beyond the usual circle of teammates.

“They’ve asked local participants to become creative in raising funds,” Chomiak said. “Last year, we were supposed to walk in Jersey City. We ended up walking in our own neighborhood – six feet apart.”

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often progressive and disabling disease of the central nervous system, believed to result from immune system dysfunction, devastating because it affects individuals in the prime of their lives, with symptoms that come and go without warning.

Manifestations of the disease, which are highly individual, can include abnormal fatigue, impaired vision, loss of balance and muscle coordination, tremors, stiffness, difficulties with speech or walking, and in severe cases, partial or complete paralysis. 

“There has been a lot of progress made in this,” Chomiak said, adding his belief that there a “change of focus,” not just to seek a cure for the disease, but to find a way to help people who are currently suffering from, repairing their lives, is what’s needed most.

“A cure is great for the future. But we want to fix the problems we have now.”

Each year nearly a half million people are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and right here in North Jersey, thousands are living with the disease. 

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