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Updated on December 7, 2012
There are a number of charity groups throughout the country that allow people to engage in an athletic event while raising funds towards a good cause.
One of the more prominent of these charity groups is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), whose primary mission is to find a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and improve the quality of life of children and adults whose lives are affected by these diseases. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are painful, medically incurable illnesses that attack the digestive system. The CCFA estimates that 1.4 million American adults and children suffer from these two diseases, many needing hospitalization stays and life-altering surgeries that sometimes requires a complete removal of the colon.
On the heels of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s enormously popular endurance and fundraising program known as Team in Training, CCFA started their own endurance and fundraising program. In the process, it has raised tens of millions of dollars towards research in hopes of finding a cure. By joining a local Team Challenge group, each participant has a chance to train for an endurance event, while receiving professional training and valuable information from weekly clinics held by the coaches or experts in the field. The participants also are able to make new friends and attend some great social and fundraising events.
Most new participants to Team Challenge are first-time half marathoners and some have never walked more than a few miles at a time. Because of the varying level of ability, team members are assigned mentors to fit each participant’s fitness level, whether it’s an experienced runner or first-timer. Many team members are people who live with Crohn’s or colitis, while others may be family members, loved ones, friends or others simply looking for a great way to learn how to complete an endurance event while receiving excellent coaching and support.
The Team Challenge training program typically consists of 16 weeks in order to develop the endurance level of team members slowly so that they are able to physically adapt to the demands of endurance training in a safe and comfortable manner. There may be times a team member might experience difficulty with the training, the fundraising or both. However, with the aid of their coaches and mentors, most team members who begin with the training on day one eventually make it all the way and participate on race weekend.
A huge dinner party the night before an endurance event allows the Team Challenge staff to congratulate and honor everyone for their efforts in fundraising. Of course, the training oftentimes transforms participants’ lives into a more active lifestyle. Special guests make appearances at the dinner party, including people of all ages who live with Crohn’s disease or colitis and want to share their personal experiences. Others may be well known celebrities who also want to share their story with having to live with one of these diseases. Despite many stories that may be heartbreaking, there are also stories of strength and perseverance. Indeed, the entire evening is a night filled with love and inspiration and that memory helps each team member on race day, as to why there were all brought together on day one.
When Team Challenge first began on the east coast, the program offered participants a chance to complete a half marathon under the guidance of an endurance coach and several mentors who help assist each participant meet their fundraising and fitness goals. The first race was extremely successful. Today Team Challenge has regional chapters in over 40 cities across the country, including teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles and New York City. Chapters sponsor two half marathon events each year and many of the regional chapters will then converge onto just a few events, thus making the Team Challenge participants quite visible with their orange race singlet that create somewhat of a flow of orange speckled throughout a half marathon course.
Due to its success by drawing thousands of participants each year to half marathon events, Team Challenge created a cycling program and a triathlon program last year. These programs enable participants to live the dream of crossing the finish line in an athletic event like a triathlon. Regardless of the event, once a Team Challenge member crosses the finish line, chances are it will be a memory they never forget.
Guest author Randy Yagi is a certified USA Track and Field and USA Triathlon coach. He is part of the staff at Running Shoes Guru, covering distance events such as the Olympics, giving coaching advice and writing about athletes that inspire us.