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Boston Runners Join Team Challenge to Change Lives, Cure Crohn’s and Colitis

Whether trotting along the Charles or sprinting through South End, Bostonians everywhere are running. And while most hit the pavement to stay fit, Team Challenge runners do it to forge lifelong friendships and race to cure Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

With their season starting April 1, those who join the professionally coached, 16-week endurance program will prepare for their most popular event, the scenic Napa-to-Sonoma California Wine Country half marathon on July 17, 2016.

We spoke to New England team members for details on how to register to join the race, where an estimated 1,000 Team Challenge runners from across the country will cross the finish line. We wanted to know what or who inspires them to keep running in these endurance events.

We began at the starting line. “What are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis?”

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis belong to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). And while patients may suffer from similar chronic issues (like persisting diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss and fatigue) the diseases affect different areas of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Either one can cause lifelong issues that can affect how patients navigate everyday situations that most people would take for granted.

Crohn’s disease typically affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon (but can impact any area from mouth to anus).  Ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny ulcers that produce pus and mucous. The combination of painful inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon. Both diseases can be hereditary, so if you or a close relative suffer, your family members have a significantly increased chance of developing these diseases.

Both of these diseases have debilitating effects on patients who suffer from them. Patients experiencing a flare may not want to leave their house, knowing that they might have an urgent need to find a bathroom at any moment. They may find it difficult to participate in sports and activities or even get to work each day. The symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis have an emotional effect that is often unrecognized, in addition to the more obvious physical effects.

Much of what causes these chronic illnesses is still unknown, making the research Team Challenge funds contribute to so crucial to finding cures.

How Team Challenge supports the cause

In a recent New Orleans half marathon, teams contributed a whopping $1.2 million to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (ccfa.org). And with New England runners required to raise at least $3,900 for the Napa to Sonoma event in July, the race to help educators and scientists heal those impacted continues.

While no commitment is required upon registration, there is a midway point in the program when runners confirm whether or not they will achieve their fundraising goals and move forward.

“If runners remain involved beyond the halfway checkpoint,” explained Team Challenge Endurance Manager, Jenny Muschinske “they will continue on and Team Challenge will cover destination expenses like race registration, coaching fees, hotel stay, race day jersey, inspirational team pasta dinners and more.”

Plus, teammates, senior mentors and coaches will all run and walk together, offering support as the entire team works toward the same goal!

Team training builds endurance and confidence

 Team Challenge New England coach, Marc Blandin described the training teams (which typically consist of about 30-40 runners) as a mix of varying experience levels and backgrounds who meet for weekly runs, customized workouts and support.

“Team members run the gamut from people who have never ran in their whole life and may opt to walk to those who could qualify for the Boston marathon” said Blandin, who has been a lifelong runner himself and has helped participants crush goals and achieve results they never thought possible since 2010.

Blandin added that four years after he joined Team Challenge New England, his father was diagnosed with colitis. He continued stating, “I love that over half the participants are patients themselves. It becomes like therapy for many, a real family environment.”

Real runners with a real commitment

 That familial sentiment was shared when we caught up with a twelve-time alum and South Boston resident who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2009.

 As a track runner in high school and college, Adriana Pierro Kosiba was no stranger to the sport when she first signed up.

“I always loved running and the team aspect of it. I initially joined after my diagnosis because I wanted to meet some new people and do something good but Team Challenge quickly became so much more,” said Kosiba.

Kosiba said that her shared experiences during training and races and the relationships she formed with teammates have made memories she’ll cherish for a lifetime, including an entire table of close runners-turned-friends at her wedding. Her involvement with the program has come to feel like home.

Be part of an incredible family and join Team Challenge New England today. Then, race for the only thing sweeter than the vineyards of Wine Country – a Crohn’s and colitis cure!