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Hitting the Ground Running

A Crystal Lake woman’s life-changing physical challenge literally set her in motion. 

Lauren Kaminsky, 26, went from avoiding discussion of her ulcerative colitis (UC) diagnosis in 2005 to making it her mission to raise awareness about the disease by blogging about her experiences at www.forwardisapace.com – warts and all. Her followers – many who also have UC – are glad she does.

You don’t hear much about UC or Crohn’s disease, which share symptoms. UC is an autoimmune disease where the body “mistakes something in the colon for an invading substance and launches an attack,” Kaminsky explained. “The disease is usually unpredictable, painful and comes with constant diarrhea mixed with blood, which worsens until treated. There are periods – flare-ups – where the disease is active, and periods that are pretty much symptom-free.”

People living with UC aren’t particularly vocal; Kaminsky didn’t like talking about it for a long time. “In the first six years I had UC, I was timid about it,” she added. “I gave very short answers when people asked questions. I avoided social events. I felt like nobody could possibly understand.”

Stepping out of the shadows to help raise awareness and money, and offer hope, eventually became her mission – for herself and the 1.4 million Americans with UC.

“I realized that when you’re honest and open with people, they tend to be pretty understanding,” she said. “Meeting other people with Crohn’s and colitis has been life-changing for me, too. It’s nice to know someone understands.”

Making a Comeback in Sin City

Kaminsky believes having a better quality of life with UC is due in large part to not only accepting and talking more openly about her disease, but by maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle, aided by her involvement in running.

“Training for races keeps me in a regular workout routine, which I believe keeps me healthier,” she said.

This summer, she and her husband Jon, whom she calls her “rock,” completed intense training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon & Half Marathon to raise funds for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America through Team Challenge, the charity’s official charity running program.

The Vegas event is not her first. She’s completed several marathons and even began training for the Half Ironman last winter when a major flare-up forced her to discontinue. Not one to give up, the Vegas race was her big comeback. “This race has not only helped me regain confidence, but raise money for a cause I think is so important,” she said.

Training for the Vegas event included meeting with the team each Saturday, working its way from four to 12 miles (a half-marathon is 13.1 miles). During the week, Kaminsky ran three to four shorter-distance runs and one long run, combined with cross-training with swimming, biking, yoga and weight training. With UC, Kaminsky must be sure to take rest days, be extra careful about training in the heat and drink lots of water to offset medications, which tend to dehydrate.

Kaminsky is fond of the Chicago Lakefront Path and McHenry County’s own Prairie Bike Trail. “Prairie Trail is beautiful and dotted with bike shops, which is important when I decide to cross-train with a bike ride and get all the way to the trail, only to realize my tires are flat and I don’t have my bike pump!” she said. “It’s full of friendly, active people who are always smiling and waving.”

‘Forward is a Pace’

“As long as you’re moving forward, you’re doing alright” is Kaminsky’s personal mantra and the motto of her blog, www.forwardisapace.com. The more she blogs about UC, the more comfortable she becomes discussing it.

“I started blogging more consistently while training for my first Half Ironman last winter,” she said. “I wanted a place to document my journey. As my colitis started to impact my journey, I wrote about it. I began finding bloggers who also write about Crohn’s or colitis.”

By actively blogging and seeking people who share her experiences and passions, “I started getting emails from people who found my blog and were happy to have someone to relate to,” she said. “Those emails make sharing things about my chronic illness on the Internet worth it.”

In addition to blogging and training, Kaminsky is active locally as the programs intern for Girls on the Run of Northwest Illinois.

After she moved to Crystal Lake in 2007, joining the local chapter was a no-brainer because she’d already run the program for the Chicago chapter when she was a teacher in Cook County.

“Girls on the Run is a life-changing program that teaches girls to value and respect themselves, and helps them grow into confident young women,” she said. “Dare I say that if I had Girls on the Run, I wouldn’t have taken six years to get comfortable with my colitis?”

Support All Around

“My support system is a huge part of the reason I’m able to live such a wonderful life with a chronic illness. My husband Jon encourages me to pursue my dreams, picks up the slack when I’m sick and has always been there for me. My parents, who also live in Crystal Lake, and my in-laws, are constantly offering to help and frequently do pitch in when I’m having a flare-up. I feel lucky to be surrounded by a caring family and wonderful friends.

Community has been vital, too. I’ve only lived in Crystal Lake for four years, but it already feels more like home than anywhere else I’ve lived. One of the best examples I can think of is when my husband and I threw a fundraiser for Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America at Nick’s Pizza & Pub. We printed fliers – Kwik Kopy gave us a discount – and took them all over town. When we talked about the cause to community members and local businesses, people listened with genuine concern. They asked questions about my UC. They took stacks of fliers to keep in their stores and many of them attended the event.” – Lauren Kaminsky

Solid Advice For New Runners …

“Start slow and do what feels right to you. Don’t listen to anyone who says you have to do a 10k, half-marathon, marathon, triathlon, etc. You don’t have to do anything. Do what you enjoy. Most of us aren’t ever going to make this anything more than a hobby, so make sure you love what you do. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘No matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch.’ Remember that and my personal mantra: ‘Forward is a pace.'”  – Lauren Kaminsky

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