Disclosure: AbbVie paid for my travel and expenses and compensated me for my time to attend this event. AbbVie is also sponsoring this post, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.
It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to return home after an event like the IBD Warrior Challenge hosted by Abbvie to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. This event was particularly special for me in so many ways. It was refreshing to see behind the curtain into the culture and passion that AbbVie has. At the same time, it was amazing to see the work so many put in to help support the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
So why did I have the honor of being part of this event in Orlando? Well, the theme of the event was an obstacle course, and for those that have followed my journey you know I’ve navigated a few obstacles of my own. A small amount of these obstacles were of my own choosing, but many others were completely out of my control when Crohn’s took over. It’s been a wild ride, and I was lucky to share it with so many.
Here are a few reasons why this event stood out compared to others I’ve attended as an advocate.
The teams I was working with at AbbVie, and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation were some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. They didn’t only want to make me feel comfortable as their patient advocate and speaker for the event, they genuinely cared about my story, the story of so many other IBD patients out there, and making a difference in the Crohn’s and UC community. It’s evident the energy, caring, and passion trickle down from these executive teams to everyone else in the organization.
The cultures that both of these organization have is incredible as well. From the chants they had to get their group fired up, to the hard work that was clearly put into this event. Not only for the event itself but the fundraising that was done to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. I would say over 300 members of the GI staff put in hours of work to fundraise themselves and help patients like me every day. This is something I haven’t seen a lot of, and it was refreshing to witness in person.
It was also great to see the proactive approach that AbbVie and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation are taking to put patients first. Now I know that large organizations like these are never going to be able to please everyone, but they are clearly putting in a ton of effort to change their approach towards patients just like me. No longer are they talking about statistics, symptoms, and other medical jargon. They are talking about the patients, our stories, and how they can support us during our battles. I can’t begin to say how AWESOME this was to see and hear.
All of this trumped the event in my mind, but the IBD Warrior Challenge was also something to take in. They set up massive inflatable obstacles to mimic the obstacles many face as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis patients every day. The group was broken up into teams of roughly 8 grown adults, who bought into the fun in every way. As they funneled into the tent, I started seeing a wide variety of costumes and themes for each team. While this might seem small, I think it says a lot about how it’s essential for AbbVie to have a positive culture that wants to help the communities they work with.
My speech turned in a heartfelt conversation when I ended up speaking with the Head of AbbVie Gastroenterology on stage for about 10 minutes, discussing my journey, the obstacles I faced. This is a moment I will never forget, and I have spoken at a lot of events. While a significant part of this was just having a normal conversation in front of 300 people about my Crohn’s, it was even better to see the reaction of many team members had about my roller coaster ride and how I came out on top.
I talked about my turtle step goals to make my own grilled cheese after my proctectomy surgery and how with a lot of hard work and planning, I was able to overcome the obstacles Crohn’s threw my way. Luckily I’ve done this enough, and I can see peoples reactions in a crowd pretty well. I’ll always remember discussing my first season as a triathlete and sharing how I completed a 70.3 half Ironman as my second race. I got a massive cheer from everyone for that. I guess they thought I was done. Because I will always remember their faces when I told them I then completed a 140.6-mile full Ironman last year. It was a combination of shock and an even bigger cheer when I showed them all the medal from my Ironman.
Luckily I got to hang out for the entire event and take it all in. It would be impossible for me to count how many people came up to me not only to share how inspiring they thought I was but how it reenergized them to work hard in the IBD community to benefit the patients who are battling real obstacles every single day.
It was an honor to share my story at this event hosted by AbbVie and share my story with their team. It was an added bonus that it was all to benefit a cause, so many who attended and I are clearly very passionate about.