Arthritis Foundation volunteer Nikole Andersen received the Arthritis Foundation Dawn Hafeli Award for Youth Leadership at this year’s Juvenile Arthritis Conference, which took place in Anaheim, Calif., in July. Each year, the award is presented to the youth or young adult (to age 25) who has shown exceptional courage and strength in their own experience of living with a childhood rheumatic disease, demonstrated leadership by volunteering time and talents to benefit other youth and young adults who have a rheumatic disease, served others through school or work activities, involved in extracurricular activities and community service, and served as a role model for children, youth and young adults with rheumatic diseases.

Nikole was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis shortly after her fourth birthday. Before proper diagnosis, she battled increasing pain and quickly decreasing movement throughout her body. It has been more than eight years since Nikole’s diagnosis. She has endured many treatments, countless hospital stays and has spent immeasurable hours and days immobile from flairs and stiffness. In 2012, Nikole faced a double hip replacement and has courageously pushed through physical therapy to be where she is today –walking with less pain! She is now a volunteer, arthritis advocate, activist and fundraiser.