Provincial Public Complaint Director, Law Enforcement Oversight Branch, Justice and Solicitor General Ministry, Government of Alberta
photography by Colin Way
Why She's Top 40: She demonstrates resiliency in facing an autoimmune disease to help raise funds and support others
Patrycia Rzechowka always wanted to be a police officer. But, in 2012, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) after temporarily losing her vision, this goal and her overall health were compromised.
Instead of letting her condition — which includes chronic fatigue — hinder her prospects, Rzechowka let it motivate her. Though some days she could barely raise her arms high enough to brush her hair, she signed up for the MS Bike Tour. “It gave me something to focus on,” Rzechowka says. “It was a way for me to feel like I was actually doing something.” She was determined to raise $1,000 and, by the end of the race, had raised $13,000. The support — and seeing what her efforts were contributing to — encouraged her to get more involved, so she teamed up with the MS Society on other projects. In the past six years, she’s spent countless hours actively working on everything from fundraising to motivational speaking, to raising awareness, to advocating for resources and support systems for those with MS.
“If I have time to do it, I definitely will,” Rzechowka says. “Everyone says ‘oh you’re so busy,’ but, at the end of the day, it’s just a choice about what you do with your time. And if someone supports me, I’m definitely going to support them.”
Recently, Rzechowka’s put her focus on mental health initiatives and has made meeting with others with MS a priority. “Sometimes just having someone to talk to who might know what you’re going through can help. I let people into my bad days, and they’ll say ‘thanks for actually sharing that.’”
Rzechowka doesn’t bemoan not being able to work as a police officer. In 2016, she told an interviewer that her 10-year goal was to be working in a policy area related to policing — she reached that goal when, just four months later, she was promoted from a temporary role to a full-time position as a director in the provincial government’s Law Enforcement Oversight Branch. “I’ve got a lot of opportunities I never would have gotten if I hadn’t got MS,” Rzechowka says. “It’s funny, but life just kind of puts you where you’re supposed to be.”
This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.