Biking for Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America
Kathy Marko and Dana Healey say they like a challenge, so they picked a big one.
Marko, 53, and Healey, 55, are training for a 50-mile event at the mid-September Centurion Canada bicycle race in the town of Blue Mountains, about 90 minutes north of Toronto. The ride, which takes place at between 735 and 1,670 feet above sea level, has total elevation changes of about 3,200 feet.
Healey, more of a runner than a cyclist, convinced Marko she could do the event and agreed to train with her. Marko, who has suffered from Crohn’s disease for the past 15 years, followed accounts of last year’s race participants and thought she’d like to participate this year as part of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge.
They became part of this year’s 40-member team and pledged to raise $3,400 each toward research, education and support services the foundation offers to about 1.4 million Americans who have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. At last year’s race, an 11-member team raised $76,000 for the foundation.
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Although the exact cause is unknown, it is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system can’t tell the difference between normal body tissue and foreign substances.
There can be healthy patches of tissue between diseased areas. The chronic inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick.
“It has no crystal ball attached to it,” Marko said. “You don’t know when it’s going to be hitting you and it’s going to flare up. Crohn’s can hit you anywhere from your throat all the way down to the other end, so it can be any location, and it’s very painful.”
Healey, whose wife, Anita, died of breast cancer, said the ability of Crohn’s disease to lead to cancer helped attract him to the fundraising challenge.
He said he and Marko rode about 500 miles in 2010 and have done an additional 200 or so since they signed up for Team Challenge. They have ridden as far as 54 miles in one training ride and included a ride near Dodgeville, Wis., which has elevation changes similar to those they’ll encounter in Canada.
“That was a real eye-opener,” said Healey, adding that he thinks the pair will have between 800 and 1,000 miles of training completed by September.
“We mainly want to raise awareness,” Marko said. “No. 1, that it’s OK to admit your problem. For years, I never told anyone about it. No one wants to talk about it.
“We had a garage sale a few months ago to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and it was amazing the number of people coming in and telling stories about people they know or themselves with Crohn’s or colitis. A lot of people go an average of seven years before they are diagnosed just because they’re embarrassed to talk to their doctors about it, but the earlier it’s caught, the better the options are for you.”
Reach staff writer Mike DeDoncker at 815-987-1382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.