Rachel Veldhuizen (kneeling with toddler, fourth from right) and her Party Pooper team from last year’s Gutsy Walk. VELDHUIZEN FAMILY

Sunday, June 6 marks an important day for some 270,000 people across Canada living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the country’s two most common inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). This year’s 26th annual Gutsy Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada will be happening in less than a month and will look considerably different from past years. Previous walks have included participants meeting at a park in their area and completing the five-kilometre trek together. However, this year it has switched to virtual, where all teams and individuals will be walking individually in their own neighbourhoods. On that day, all those taking part will still come together for a Zoom call. During the virtual event, participants are encouraged to share photos on social media using #gutsywalk to raise even more awareness.

This event is Canada’s largest country-wide community event for supporting Crohn’s and colitis and has raised some $46 million dollars for programs and research since its launch in 1996. Funds from the walk go towards spreading awareness, advocating for those afflicted by IBD, providing patients and families with support and research for treatments and possible cures. Although fundraising for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada has been challenging, with events being cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event is an opportunity to bring people together virtually and collect donations for the cause.

Niagara Gutsy Walk Honorary Chair, Rachel Veldhuizen, age 15, is happy to be able to share her story and make an impact this year.

“It’s an honour to be able to help raise awareness and just help others in my situation, as well to let others know that they are not alone and that there are other people going through similar things that they can connect with, talk to and get their questions answered,” she told the Voice.

Veldhuizen was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of nine and has been hospitalized multiple times due to the disease. Since her diagnosis, Veldhuizen has been involved in numerous studies and has taken part in the Gutsy Walk for the past six years. Her team, called “Rachel’s Party Poopers,” made up of family members and friends, sport their purple shirts and fundraise and participate in the event each year.

With the changes made to this year’s walk, Rachel’s mom, Laureli Veldhuizen, shared that they will be walking by themselves and that they are hoping family and friends will do the same. Laureli said that Crohn’s and Colitis Canada has really helped their family when it came to learning more about ulcerative colitis, understanding medications, and receiving guidance when it came to dealing with COVID-19 and her daughter being immunocompromised.

“Through the organization, we have discovered Rachel is not alone in dealing with this chronic illness,” said Laureli. “It helps families like us who have someone diagnosed, just to provide us with education and different information on what they are researching.”

“It’s hard when someone is diagnosed to be able to know what to do because everyone has individual symptoms that affect them. So the information that they give is really good, just to kind of help us to be calm and understand what we are dealing with.”

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada have other fundraisers throughout the year, such as a more recent one where they were selling cases of wine from Henry of Pelham, said Laureli. However, the Gutsy Walk is one of their largest events, which makes up a significant amount of their yearly donations.

Occurring just weeks before the Gutsy Walk is set to happen, is World IBD Day. On Wednesday, May 19, people in some 50 countries will come together to raise awareness and encourage action from governments and healthcare specialists. The colour purple is used to show support for those suffering from Crohn’s and colitis diseases. Purple ribbons and t-shirts will be worn on this day and famous landmarks across the world, including Ontario’s very own CN Tower, Peace Bridge, Skylon Tower and Niagara Falls will all be lighted in purple for this event.

Around the annual Gutsy Walk, Rachel always tries to do her part by assisting in raising money for research that could hopefully lead to a cure.

The Veldhuizens are encouraging everyone to participate in Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s Gutsy Walk on June 6 and show their support for all those living with IBD. For more information on the walk or to donate visit https://gutsywalk.ca/Home.aspx