Marathon #63 – 26.2 for Penney


Penney’s Story:

My IBD story starts 3 years before I was born. My mom, a new bride, moved to Seattle, Washington with my dad because he was stationed there in the Army. Sadly, not long after arriving, she got very sick and no one could figure out what was wrong. It was determined that she needed to leave without my dad, come back home, and try to get some answers.

After several misdiagnoses over the next couple years, one being hepatitis, doctors determined she had Crohn’s disease. With little to no information available about this disease, my mom could only listen to what her doctors recommended. The main treatments back then were steroids, in the form of prednisone and surgery to remove the diseased parts of the colon, when the medication stopped being effective. She was told at one point that she would do well to live to see 50 years of age. That’s as good as it got back then.

I was born 3 years later. 2 more siblings followed over the next 7 years. Back then, no one had even heard of Crohn’s disease in the small town where I was born and raised. Prednisone was a household word, much like asking if you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I remember my friends asking why my mom was in the hospital again and I would try to explain what it was…but all I felt was that there weren’t words to explain it and a lot of embarrassment around the topic. In some ways, that hasn’t changed. Sometimes I wonder why we never heard of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation long ago, but it was new too and until the internet and social media came to be, it was difficult to find support groups for little known diseases.

One of my most prominent memories is my 12th birthday. My mom was in the hospital for the entire month of April. She missed being home for Easter and my birthday. I remember that she ordered a cake from the hospital cafeteria as a way to help my dad with the planning.  It was very thoughtful; except that it was covered in coconut flakes….and no one in our family like’s coconut. Needless to say, my cake that year wasn’t great! I can’t even remember if I tried to just scrape it off or eat around it but I definitely remember wishing that my mom wasn’t sick all the time. She had several more surgeries and plenty of hospital stays during my teen years.

Fast forward some years. I grew up, had 3 kids of my own in my early 20’s. By the time my 30’s came around, I was divorced and raising my kids alone.  As we are now aware, stress plays a huge part in the way our bodies react. I believe that stress led to my own diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. My mom and dad were there when they prescribed my medication on the day of my first colonoscopy. She knew my fate, even when I still wasn’t coherent enough to comprehend it. I do, however, remember being really thankful that the treatments had gotten better so it didn’t feel so much like a death sentence. My mom was still with us and she had passed the “dreaded 50” mark. Every day after that has been a blessing.

Fast forward again to 2012. I received a postcard in the mail for Team Challenge, not sure what it even was. My son and I went to the information session and I was really moved by the passion and care that everyone showed for finding a cure. Finally, there was a community where it wasn’t embarrassing to talk about the bathroom part of these diseases.  After several conversations with Lindsey Boyd, who was the campaign manager at the time…I took the plunge and signed up for the 2010 Vegas Half marathon with Team Challenge! I raised over $4200 that year!

What an amazing experience! I met some incredibly amazing people, and the feeling of crossing that finish line on the Vegas strip at night is something that I can’t put into words. To see so many people with a passion for a cure and to realize there were so many people who had this dreaded disease was eye-opening to me and so gut-wrenching at the same time.

Finally, we are to present day.

One of these amazing people I met at my first TC event and became fast friends with was Becky Johnson-Rescola, who ran Camp Oasis at that time. I promised her that one day I would come to the Michigan camp and be a counselor. I fulfilled that dream last summer. It was THE HOTTEST summer we’ve had in a while and without air conditioning; the heat alone was a challenge. To say I felt my age is an understatement but my campers, my “littles” (7 girls, ages 7-10), changed my life. Each one, opened up and shared their personal story and what they had to overcome in their short lives. It made me so thankful to know that we are still fighting for a cure that may be possible in their lifetime.

Last year, I also decided that 10 years was long enough. When I saw the ad for the Oregon Wine Country Half marathon, I jumped at the chance to travel to the west coast. I’ll be honest, that I was more excited about a vacation with wine than I was the running but even with very little training due to injuries, I hit my goal: I finished!!!!  That race was just as awesome and I met even more incredible people; Coach Marc being one of them. He ran 3 of the last 4 miles with me and in those 3 miles, we formed a bond that I don’t plan on losing any time soon. In fact, I have committed to raising more funds and running another half marathon with this team in October, in my favorite city: NASHVILLE! 

When Coach Marc reached out and asked me if he could honor me with one of his marathons, I was elated. I asked him if he would be able to run on April 16th. He graciously agreed.

Up to this point, I’ve only generally referred to my age. You see, I am 50 years old….4/16/2023 is my birthday. The length of life my mom was barely promised. She is still with us, a recipient of long-awaited treatments that are less invasive and more effective. Without the $$millions$$ of dollars we have raised and the Foundation has invested in research, I am quite sure she wouldn’t have lived to see ME turn 50! I am so thankful, on this BIRTH day and every day, for the passion & persistence for a cure that we witness from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

Thank you, Coach Marc, for allowing me to share both our stories and for being a running champion for all of us with these diseases……until we find a cure!!!!!!!

Marathon #63 – Recap

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