Stronger Than Obstacles: My Proudest Running Moment

Being sick was not new to me. Completing a half marathon was not new to me, but right before age 21, I got something new: my first ileostomy. 

I have Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease of my gastrointestinal tract - or as I like joke, “It’s like my body is Pac-Man and is attacking itself”. I was diagnosed when I was 11 and had to learn an entirely new way of life. It’s also what brought me to running.

When I was 15, I had my first surgery and learned about the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Team Challenge program. It was brand new but encouraged runners of all abilities to complete an endurance program for charity. I was legally too young to participate, but I knew this was the motivation to help me heal.

Over the years, I would complete multiple half marathons in between my many surgeries. At 19, I had to miss the Virginia Half in Loudon County as I was just getting released from the hospital after surgery number 3. That is when I began planning my 21st birthday.

By doing some simple math, I realized the Napa to Sonoma Half would be during my birthday weekend the following year. After a few emails with Destination Races, I was able to confirm that this would be the best birthday to date. I finally got my family involved and everyone agreed to be in Sonoma to watch me cross the finish line…what we didn’t know yet is how sick I was going to get over the following year.

Junior year of college was difficult; not because of school but because my Crohn’s was getting aggressively worse. My can do attitude was waning and I couldn’t find relief no matter what we tried.

I met with my surgeon 2 months before my 21st birthday. He wanted to rush me in for tests that day, but there was one small hiccup, I was about to leave for my birthright trip to Israel. He agreed to let me go on two conditions - prednisone and that I was seeing him as soon as I got back.

I frustratingly obliged and prepared to head to the airport from the hospital, steroids in tow. Those 2 weeks were rough, I was sick through most of the trip and knew I was having surgery when I got home. I could not have been more right. 2 weeks after landing, I was in the OR getting my first medical device, my ileostomy.

An ileostomy is when you divert the small intestine from the large intestine, and simply start using an external bag to go to the bathroom. It was a daunting device but I heard it had a chance to give me a life. The only thing I could think was “will I still be able to go to Napa?” My surgeon assured me that I could.

After 5 days in the hospital, and another week at home, I went in for my post-op. I begged my surgeon to let me go and still walk the half marathon. He agreed to letting me fly, as long as I didn’t do any heavy lifting and used a wheelchair at the airport, and he agreed to no more than 2 miles during the race.

I worked with staff from the Foundation to ensure I had an easy flight, one even sat next to me, and that I could have accommodations during race weekend. 

With my surgeon’s blessing, I was able to leave for California and continue to have the amazing 21st I had planned. He even gave me permission to drink a little in celebration.

The day of the race finally arrived and I was anxious. How was my new, 3-week post-op body going to do on this race? Would I be up for all that walking? The answer: Sort of. 

With the help of friends and staff, I was able to complete 8 pieced together miles, and still walk across that finish line with a smile on my face and my family waiting for me.

It was more than an obstacle I overcame, it was a dream I accomplished.

Something I had been planning for over a year, and I made it with friends and family to cheer me on.

I realize I was lucky, not everyone has this incredible recovery after surgery, and I have definitely had worse recoveries since. But I accomplished my goal of not letting my body hold me back and fight for those like me by raising a boat load of funds for that one race.

I have since had 6 more surgeries, with a 7th on the way (making for a total of 11 after my next operation). I have also continued to complete at least one race/half marathon each year. 

The worst thing about Crohn’s is you’re always fighting an uphill battle. The best? The determination, strength and self-confidence it gives you, even on the worst days. I know my body can do anything I set my mind to (and train for), and one day, this uphill battle will be won as I cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon - my ultimate race and hometown event.

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