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I’m walking on the sidewalk along the Red Cedar River, trying to decide whether or not to pull on my winter hat. It’s Saturday, two days after “the last day of good weather,” which people had been observing morosely to me all week.
The sky is gray, the air is flecked with rain and the ground is cold. I leave my hat in my pocket as an act of defiance against the coming winter. Twenty minutes later, it’s clinging to my head like a starving jellyfish.
The reason that I and about 100 or so other people — most bundled up a bit more snugly than I am — have gathered here on the banks of the river is simple. We’re here to walk.
More specifically, we’re here for Take Steps, the fundraising walk sponsored by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, which set foot in Lansing for the first time this year.
As someone with a close family member who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease not long ago, I have joined her and several relatives and friends to walk and raise money for the foundation in pursuit of a cure.
Fundraising walks and runs sometimes feel like a dime a dozen at MSU. On any given weekend, you’re almost certain to see spray-painted arrows on the pavement and colorful coordinated T-shirts lined up within long strands of people. They come, they walk or jog or run and then they disappear, having left little more than a few footprints.
And yet, when it’s personal, when you see the cause and the need for an impact firsthand, the events reveal themselves to be much more than just people taking a stroll around campus.
According to the CCFA website, more than 1.4 million American adults suffer from digestive diseases, of which Crohn’s and Colitis only are two. Many of these diseases currently are incurable.
Research has taken the lead in developing and testing new medications to treat and potentially cure conditions such as these. A significant percentage of funding for these efforts comes from charitable contributions. In the same way cancer research has seen a surge thanks to well-organized and enthusiastically attended events such as Relay for Life, the Take Steps walk hopes to fund research in search of a cure for Crohn’s and Colitis.
As we shiver on Auditorium Field, I listen to a student from Okemos High School share his story of growing up with a constant nagging of pain, followed by a diagnosis that confirmed the existence of a lifelong condition. Watching this, I am struck by his visible strength and determination.
And when the organizers ask for a show of hands, I witness around me what I realize is the coming together of a small, but fiercely tight-knit community of people whose challenges have drawn them to be bravely open about their struggles and rally for a cure.
As we begin the walk, I talk for a few minutes with just about everybody in our group.
At one point, my cousin and I agree that we wish we could have heard more stories from the people assembled here with us. Some are just children. Some are adults who have battled Crohn’s or Colitis for decades. Each of them, we understand, has a story of endurance and courage written within them.
What stirs me up inside — what warms me as we walk, so that by the time we return to the rock on Farm Lane, I have removed my hat and stuffed it back inside my pocket — is that the Take Steps walk not only has brought these people together to support valuable research, but it also has brought them together for each other, and even for somebody like me who never had heard of Crohn’s or Colitis until it struck my own family.
There’s something to be said for the power of a group. There’s also a deep resonance in the individual story.
By combining these in events like Take Steps and other charity walks, the Lansing and Michigan State University communities are doing a very good thing. By encouraging these organizations to gather on our campus, by giving them space to walk or run, to make their voices — or in our case, plastic maracas — heard, and by providing the necessities to sustain large groups of people — local restaurants such as Noodles and Company donated food for the Take Steps walkers — these communities are making it possible for people to reach out and connect.
I was struck by Crohn’s when it arrived in my family. The Take Steps walk allowed me to make a difference in fighting back.
Craig Pearson is a guest columnist at The State News and a biochemistry junior. Reach him at email@example.com.
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