Going animal to fight multiple sclerosis

Chrystal Redekopp has transformed herself into a giraffe, a gorilla, a hippo, a pikachu, a baboon and a capybara — all for a good cause.

Using face paints collected for Halloween costumes over the years, the UC Berkeley senior will put on the face of any animal requested by donors to her Walk to End MS fund. And then she’ll post a photo of her face on her Facebook page.

It’s Redekopp’s way of rewarding people who support her participation in the annual charity benefit, which aims to raise $1.4 million this year to fight multiple sclerosis. This year’s East Bay walk takes place Saturday at Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

Chrystal Redekopp as herself (top) and as a giraffeThe walk is an every-year event for Redekopp, a Billings, Mont., native who lost her mother to the debilitating disease two weeks before she started college in Nevada. She lasted a semester. Eight years later, she came to Berkeley as a re-entry student and is about to graduate with a major in sociology and a minor in education.

“The main reason I do the walk is for her memory and to help people who are in the same situation I was,” says Redekopp, “because no one should have to go through that.”

Redekopp’s face painting skills go way back. She always loved costumes as a kid, and Halloween was her favorite holiday. When she was 10 or 11, she’d take a card table with her when the family went to high school football games and set herself up as a face painter, charging 25 cents per cheek or $1 for a full face job.

Her Facebook photos show some of Redekopp’s more recent, and very elaborate, Halloween transformations — Ziggy Stardust, Wonder Woman and a Roy Lichtenstein portrait, complete with word bubble.

But this is the first year she’s meshed her face painting with the MS fundraiser.

“I was thinking about how boring and annoying it must be for people to get emails and Facebook posts saying, ‘Donate to my cause,’ “ she recounts. “I thought it would be fun for people if there was an incentive, and if I had to just do a little work.”

Her first idea was to do impressions of animals, but then people started asking for unusual ones. So she decided to paint her face instead and photograph the results.

“I thought it would be fun,” she says.

Her first request was for a giraffe. As soon as the photo went up on Facebook last Friday (April 13), she says, donations started pouring in. Since then she’s raised her original fundraising goal of $500 to $1,600.

“It’s pretty labor intensive,” she admits. The capybara took her six hours; the gorilla three.

Photos of her first six animals are displayed with this article and on Redekopp’s Walk for MS Facebook event page, titled Animal Crackers, and on her own page, where she’ll be posting upcoming Chrystal-as-animal photos. Already waiting are requests for a zebra, honey badger, bear, cheetah, zorse, chicken or pug and koala.

She’s recruited a team of eight friends to walk with her, including others from Berkeley, and they’ve raised more than $4,000 so far.

Donations to Redekopp’s Walk for MS can be made through her page on the National MS Society website, where she tells her story.  More information about the East Bay walk can be found on this webpage, also on the national site.