Collinsville Teacher Runs in Half-Marathon to Help Former Student
As an eighth-grade teacher at Collinsville Middle School, Jennifer Rowland hears a lot of excuses. That’s why Katie Luner, a student from six years ago, still stands out in her mind.
I would always remember Katie. She would come in days when you could tell she hadn’t slept the night before, there were circles under eyes and you could tell she didn’t feel good, said Rowland. I had students who made a lot of excuses. But she always had her homework, always did a great job and never used her disease as an excuse.
That was the year that Luner discovered she had Crohn’s Disease, which affects the body’s digestive system. People who have Crohn’s Disease often get severe abdominal cramps and have to go the bathroom frequently.
Luner is now a 20-year-old student at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. She said she was determined to not let the disease get her down.
I just didn’t want it to ruin my life and for me to have to give up everything, she said. I swam competitively with the Gaslight Gators. It meant a lot to me to be able to swim and even though it made me sick, I used that as a challenge. If I could swim my best time even while feeling sick, then it would be more of a victory.
It was that spirit that moved Rowland years later. When she discovered this past summer that there was an opportunity to work towards finding a cure for the disease, she jumped right in. Today, the married mother of two is training to participate in a half-marathon as part of Team Challenge. The event is organized by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America as a way to bring awareness and raise funds to find a cure for the disease.
I always try to be a good role model for my students and I thought that this would be something not only for my former student but this would be promoting something for the community and my current students as well, Rowland said.
Rowland, 35, has participated in marathons before but said she hadn’t run one since the birth of her two boys, ages 3 and 2. But she said the daily early morning runs to train for the 13-mile event, which will be held in December in Las Vegas, is nothing compared to what Luner has gone through. The college junior has had to have several feet of her intestine, her appendix and gall bladder removed.
She’s had two surgeries and she’s still going strong, Rowland said.
Rowland said her goal is to raise $5,000 through her participation in Team Challenge. She said the foundation uses 82 cents of every dollar for research to find a cure for the disease.
I hope to spread information and awareness of the disease, Rowland said. There are over 1.4 million people affected by it. Hopefully the money will go to find a cure so people like Katie don’t have to battle it.
Luner said she is touched by Rowland’s effort.
My Crohn’s has been kind of a mild one. I’ve had friends who have gone through way more surgeries and have more pain. So for her to recognize that and do this in my honor is kind of fantastic, Luner said. I’ve always looked up to my teachers so for her to do this is incredible. The fact that a teacher would care that much six years down the line it’s such a great feeling.