In my day job, one of my clients is Team Challenge. Team Challenge is a program run by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. I have been working on this account for over two years. And now I’ve been diagnosed with colitis. Talk about irony.
This may have been a good thing. Part of this blog and writing about this journey is to try to remind myself of the positive through it all. Because I’ve been working with Team Challenge, as well as their newest program, spin4 crohn’s & colitis cures, I am more familiar than most with what Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are. I am aware of the resources available. I know that there are millions of people affected by IBD. I know that there is no cure, but there are thousands of people affected in some way by these diseases who are working hard to raise money for research in a valiant effort to find a cure and to find better treatment.
Team Challenge, specifically, is an endurance training program where people raise money while training to race a 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon or Ironman. Participants get access to coaches, mentors, and fundraising support, but they also get to meet other people who, like them, have been affected by IBD.
This high-level view of Team Challenge is all I really understood about the program until this past weekend. This was enough to write ads and to create a strategy so that we could help them generate leads and recruit new teammates across the U.S. But it wasn’t enough to really understand what the program means to all of the people who take part.
So this past weekend, my colleague and I traveled to one of their events to get the full race weekend experience.
And let me tell you, Team Challenge is so much more than it seems.
As a freshly diagnosed “patient,” I felt like I was seeing this program with new eyes. I saw how people who don’t even know each other are excited to introduce themselves, talk about where they’re from, offer a hug or a pat on the back, and tell their story.
We tagged along with a group for a warm-up run one morning. The group of teammates who gathered in the lobby didn’t know each other. But everyone greeted each other like they were seeing an old friend at a familiar coffee shop. They were so at ease with each other and so happy to meet people whom they knew were having the same experience. They had all been through this together, either in their home cities or virtually. They’d connected through social media, they’d heard each other’s names, they’d supported each other during training and fundraising. And most of all, they knew they had a connection because they’ve all been affected by IBD. They either had it, or their friends or family members did.
We chatted with some teammates as we ran and heard some stories. We heard many stories during the weekend we spent with the team. Stories of people in remission, of friends who both were diagnosed, years apart, stories of daughters and nieces, stories of hospitals and surgeries, but most of all, stories of hope. These were the stories of people who were fighting. After all they’d been through, they still weren’t backing down. And they knew that if we can raise enough money, that someday, there will be a cure for IBD.
When their honored speakers got behind the podium during their pre-race pasta party to tell their stories, you could almost see the energy in the room. You could feel every person rallying behind the girls who were diagnosed as kids, the mother who supported her daughter every step of the way. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. This is why we race, they thought. We need to find cures for these girls and for every single person fighting IBD. For our children who might someday be diagnosed with the same disease that we have. These stories are our why.
Team Challenge is truly a support group for these participants. I felt like when I was with them, I didn’t have to worry about how many times I needed to go to the bathroom in the morning, or how long I took in the portajohn before the race. They had all done the same thing at some point or another. I felt like I could be honest when they asked me what my favorite places to run were in my hometown, so I told them the trail that had the most bathrooms. I knew they all felt the same way – that they could be open and honest and know that they were in good company. They weren’t alone, no matter how isolating this disease can be.
Every teammate who raced was there for each other, whether they were on the same team or not. Whether they even knew them or not. I cheered for every participant as if they were my best friend and I could see in their faces that they felt stronger when they saw us on the sidelines. As hard as it is to run a half marathon, fighting IBD is harder. They have a motto: “We hate running, but we hate IBD more.”
I was still impressed with their running ability and their drive to finish the race, whether they ran or walked. The coaches were there to support all of them the whole way, running up and down the course to fall in step with each teammate at least once and give them the encouragement they needed.
The finish line was electric. Everyone gave their all and finished 13.1 miles. But it was never about the race. It was never about the finish line. It’s about the family they’ve become and the money they’ve raised and the cures they will one day find.
That is what Team Challenge truly is.