Vital People: Gutsy Walk for Crohn’s and colitis is June 4

Vital People: Gutsy Walk for Crohn's and colitis is June 4

Crohn’s and colitis affects one in 140 Canadians, and the annual Gutsy Walk aims to raise money for research, provide support, and raise awareness for the diseases.

Olivia Thoen looks healthy and fit, but she lives with a chronic, sometimes debilitating disease.

“I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in October 2018,” the president of the Victoria chapter of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada says. “I had just started my second year of university and I thought I had the flu everyone got at the start of the year but my flu got worse.”

Olivia was so sick, she ended up in the hospital and lost a significant amount of weight, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

“She went from being a very physically active and healthy young woman, to very ill and bedridden in a matter of weeks,” explains Olivia’s dad, Randy Thoen.

It was only after Olivia had been in and out of hospital several times that they finally got a diagnosis, thanks to an emergency room nurse who made the connection.

“It was really scary,” Olivia says. “I lost a lot of friendships because I didn’t know how to articulate what I was going through to someone as a 21-year-old person in university lying in my car between classes just trying to make it.”

Chronic and incurable, the diseases prevent the body from digesting and absorbing food.

“It’s been quite debilitating,” says Gutsy Walk Victoria honourary chair Danielle Martyniuk. “I’ve had multiple surgeries and have spent many, many nights in the hospital for procedures.”

Danielle was diagnosed with Crohn’s eight years ago.

“It is an invisible disease,” Danielle explains. “A lot of people don’t know just by looking at me so even though it’s very prominent in your life, others have no idea.”

And that’s why these young women are speaking out — to help those suffering in silence and to raise awareness about the annual Gutsy Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis in Canada on June 4.

“That is the main fundraiser for patient care programs, patient support, new research and that goes on year round,” Olivia says.

And this year’s walk at the Cedar Hill Golf Course chip trail is the first one back in person since COVID.

“It’s a great time,” Randy says. “It’s a great community to walk with. Everybody’s welcomed. It’s pet friendly, kid friendly, people friendly.”

For Olivia, who’s managing her condition with medication, connecting with the Victoria chapter of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada for peer support has been huge.

“They really helped me to connect with others like myself and be that safe space and give me that encouragement to get up and try my hardest,” Olivia said.

“We can hear firsthand other family’s experiences,” Randy adds. “You learn from each other. You support each other.”

You can register for the walk or make a donation at

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