'One tough cookie' to march Sunday in Miles for Miracles

The Baltimore Sun

Corinne Langer, 13, spent much of last weekend on her sofa watching viedos and just being a "couch potato," but not for the usual reasons a teenager might have.

The Clarksville resident has Crohn's disease, a chronic digestive illness, and she was just too tired to do anything more. Yet, she will be walking in the fifth Miles for Miracles event at Centennial Park on Sunday to raise money to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, and she invites the public to join her.

Despite her diagnosis almost two years ago, Corinne said she can handle the disease and almost anything else.

"I just think that I have learned to be optimistic," she said. "This experience has taught me to never really doubt myself."

She can't eat uncooked foods and takes several medications to manage her condition. She has more frequent checkups with her physician than most kids do. And then there is her energy level, which is sometimes sapped by the gastrointestinal tract inflammation and irritation that can plague Crohn's patients.

But Corinne, who deals with moderate symptoms, said her life is not much different. She is a straight-A student in the eighth grade at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, and she loves to ski.

Her mother, Marilyn, called her younger daughter "one tough cookie" when it comes to daily management of her condition. "Corinne is defiant, in a good way," Marilyn said. "She has basically said, 'I have Crohn's ... so what?' She just does what she needs to do."

Corinne is compassionately aware that others with Crohn's are not as lucky as she is. "I know there are people with severe symptoms whose lives have really changed," she said, with an empathy that belies her age. "We do this walk for them."

As many as 1.4 million Americans have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, according to the CCFA Web site.

Pinning down the illness can be tricky, said Marilyn, retelling the events that led to Corinne's diagnosis.

"She had stomach pain fairly often, which concerned us, and she made frequent trips to the bathroom, but lots of kids have those issues," she said. "But when her growth rate tapered off to a flat line, that was when our pediatrician sent us to a specialist."

Stunted growth can be a side effect of the illness, in which nutrients from food are not always properly processed by the body.

It was from Sinai Hospital's pediatric gastroenterology department that word finally came. "When Corinne was diagnosed, it was like hitting a wall. ... I broke down and cried," Marilyn said. "But, she has been amazingly strong, and we count our blessings every day that the illness isn't debilitating for her."

Marilyn sought out a support group and found the Maryland-Southern Delaware chapter, which is based in Columbia. The family took part in last year's Howard County fundraiser and began a close association with other CCFA members. Preparing for Sunday's 2.4-mile walk around the lake at Centennial Park has kept the Langer family busy for some time.

Corinne's four-member team of walkers, which includes her mother, and father, Kenneth, and 16-year-old sister Alyssa, is called "Corinne's Crohnies" and is ranked second by the local chapter with more than $3,150 in online pledges.

Sunday's fundraiser is part of a network of Miles for Miracles -- Guts & Glory walk/run events scheduled across the nation on different dates. The first walk was held in Centennial Park in 2003 after two 13-year-old girls organized it as a testament to a favorite Hebrew school teacher who suffered from Crohn's.

Co-founders Carrie Gartner and Shayna Meliker are now 18 and graduates of Centennial High School. Though they both headed off to college this year, Carrie's sister Amy, 16, and father, Randy, remain involved in planning the annual walk.

"This event has been such a great success," said Randy. "It has been so rewarding to know that my kids and their friends cared enough to establish this great fundraising tradition."

He added that after "getting a taste of helping others," Carrie is majoring in nursing, and Amy, a junior at Shosanna Cardin Jewish Community High School, is exploring health care jobs.

Suellen Seigel, development associate with the local CCFA chapter, said its goal is to raise $65,000 this year. Since its inception, the walk in the park has brought in about $250,000.

Seigel also pointed out that 81 cents of every dollar raised goes directly toward funding medical research. The national CCFA office in New York reports that $10 million was donated to research by all chapters in 2006.

Sunday's event is open to the public without preregistration. Walkers should use the park's entrance on Route 108. Breakfast and registration begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by a 9:15 warm-up and then the walk at 9:30. There is a $25 fee per person. Participants who raise $50 or more will be entered in a drawing for two round-trip airline tickets and other raffle prizes. Corporate and individual donations are also encouraged. Information: 443-276-0861 or go to ccfa.kintera.org.


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg wants to know about it. E-mail Janene at jholzberg76@msn.com, or call 410-461-4150.

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