When Perry Cornell was first diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in 1992, he had just begun a new career and was relocated from city to city within Ontario.
It wasn’t until 2004, when Perry and his wife settled in Barrie, that he actively sought out Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. He soon became an active member of the Simcoe County chapter.
This marked the beginning of a long tenure with the organization, during which he met others in the IBD community, developed long-lasting friendships, and experienced the growth of Crohn’s and Colitis Canada firsthand.
From local to national
Before the Gutsy Walk became the signature fundraiser it is today, it was called the “Heel ‘n’ Wheel-a-thon” and took place on different days throughout the months of May and June. In Simcoe County, they shared the path along the Barrie waterfront with other fundraising walks on any given summer weekend.
Perry’s first Heel ‘n’ Wheel-a-thon was in 2005. At first, as the event was finding its footing, participation was limited—but being present when there were only 10 to 15 walkers made the turnout in recent years all the more impressive.
“During one of the Gutsy Walks,” recalls Perry, “I remember discussing with Mayor Jeff Leeman how the participation rate in Barrie over the past ten years had grown exponentially.”
When the Heel ‘n’ Wheel-a-thon was rebranded as the Gutsy Walk in 2012, a single recurring date—the first Sunday of June—was chosen to unite the Crohn’s and colitis community. However, the Barrie waterfront trail had already been booked for the first Sunday of June that year, so the Simcoe County walk was forced to relocate.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the volunteers were able to secure St. Vincent Park. In doing so, the Simcoe County Gutsy Walk found a home—a familiar constant as the fundraiser evolved and welcomed more members of the Crohn’s and colitis community.
“I am confident that [making the Gutsy Walk] an event held on the same day across the country was instrumental in solidifying and expanding its participant base,” says Perry.
Hope for the future, comfort in the present
“I find it heart-wrenching to hear about the battles these insidious diseases cause,” says Perry. “The pain and suffering of young kids and teens is extremely troubling, especially when [those] should be the best years of their young lives.”
Thinking of the future motivates him: “I have always felt that the Gutsy Walk was my way of helping to make the road behind me a little straighter, and hopefully a little easier for those that follow.”
He believes that the biggest challenge those living with Crohn’s or colitis must overcome is accepting the reality of a chronic autoimmune illness: “People get this disease and they kind of lock it in the bathroom. Once you get over that hurdle, you’ll be able to be honest with yourself and realize you’re in it for the long haul. People then become a lot more open and willing to share.”
This kind of personal growth allows people to peek out of their shells and see that they are not alone. Oftentimes, it is through sharing personal stories that people can find comfort and familiarity.
In that sense, the annual Gutsy Walk is more than just a walk. It is a chance for those touched by Crohn’s and colitis to come together for a common cause and share their battles and triumphs. It is a day where each participant seeks to inspire and be inspired, all in hopes of a way to Make it stop. For life.
The battle against Crohn’s and colitis continues, and we need all the help we can get. Perry shares a few of his fundraising secrets with us:
“I always send a personalized email to everyone that donates to my Gutsy Walk initiative,” he says. “It is the least I can do after they have taken the time out of their busy life to support me in this effort.
He also feels it is important to personalize your Gutsy Walk donation page. Not only can the process be liberating and therapeutic, it provides donors with a personal connection to the cause.
Lastly, as a previous Registration Captain at the Simcoe County Gutsy Walk, Perry understands firsthand the benefits of electronic donations: “it eliminates errors, reduces costs, and really helps the registration group with processing on walk day.”
Will you take up our mission? Register, donate, or become a Gutsy Walk volunteer today.
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