LODI — For a long time, the only exercise Lorraine Ramsey got was taking her two dogs — Olive and Ellie — for a walk around the block.

“And I wasn’t really enjoying that,” Ramsey said.

But in February, she walked 13.1 miles of the Huntington Beach Marathon and in April will walk a similar distance in the Big Sur Marathon.

It wasn’t that the 42-year-old suddenly decided fitness was in. Ramsey is walking for a greater purpose.

With each step, she is raising money that will go toward research to find a cure for Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that she has battled since she was 13.

It’s just one of many ailments that are a part of her life. She was born deaf in her left ear and with two heart defects, one of which was addressed with a stent; the other will require open-heart surgery to replace a valve. At age 7, she was diagnosed with epilepsy. She developed osteonecrosis, a dissolving of the bone, possibly caused by various medications, in her hip and at 32 she had a hip replacement. She has fibromyalgia.

At 21, while a student at California State University, Chico with a “body to die for” and a boyfriend, Ramsey’s Crohn’s became so severe she had to have her large intestine removed, resulting in an ostomy, routing her small intestine to a tube on the side of her waist that delivers body waste into an attached pouch.

“I did not want to live when they told me,” Ramsey said. “I had a gorgeous body. I had people tell me that.”

It took awhile for Ramsey to come to grips with her new reality. She stayed in school, earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and started a career, first as a social worker, then as a teacher.

“After I felt better about myself and having an ostomy, I wanted to give back,” Ramsey said. “There weren’t support groups when I had mine."

She learned of the Buddy Connection, sponsored by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, which matches ostomy patients with those just undergoing the procedure.

Among those she counseled was Wes Bowers, who was living in Pacifica and had the condition since he was 16. He underwent the same procedure in 2010 when he was 33.

“One of the first or second things I said to him was, ‘I know what you’re thinking about. What am I going to do? What about relationships, sex?’ It’s what everybody thinks.”

The two ended up together and have been married five years.

Ramsey decided to expand her outreach to others with Crohn’s and found a camp for children with the condition. It was while serving as a volunteer activities director at Camp Oasis in Mountain Center, near Palm Springs, in June 2017 that she learned about Team Challenge.

A group of Crohn’s sufferers run or walk half and full marathons, raising money for research to find a cure. A friend from the camp contacted her last fall about participating in the Huntington Beach Marathon. She agreed.

Bowers, who had previously been a runner, agreed to join, too, but backed out when he learned he would have to raise money.

But the two joined a gym near their Lodi home. Ramsey began by walking on the treadmill. She can’t run because of her heart conditions.

“The first time, I don’t know if I did an hour,” Ramsey said. “We’d walk around town, walk to my parents’ house, about a half-mile. I started out really slow. I got excited when I walked a mile.”

Coaches and friends on Team Challenge lent support when she thought she couldn’t go through with the walk.

“Wes was always with me,” Ramsey said. “At the gym, we’d go on walks on the weekends. Having someone with you truly does keep you going. If I didn’t have Wes, I don’t know that I would have made it.”

Fundraising was more difficult than she’d expected.

“I had a fundraiser at Rick’s Pizza, but I didn’t make that much,” Ramsey said. “I’m a member of American Association of University Women, and almost all of them made donations. My veterinarian and my dentist donated. And family and neighbors.”

In all, she raised $4,090, exceeding her goal of $3,000.

“I had a lot of people who believed in me,” Ramsey said. “After the fundraising, once so many people had donated money, it was like I had a purpose. I had to do it for them. It wasn’t about me or about Crohn’s or a cure.”

But, of course, it was.

So is the upcoming Big Sur Marathon and in January, 2018, one in Maui.

Finding sponsors allows her to talk about Crohn’s.

The half-marathons themselves offer their own rewards.

“I’ve never been so proud of myself in my life,” she said of completing the half marathon in Huntington Beach, a walk that took four hours.

“I don’t know that I can say I enjoy running. I enjoy the thought that I am helping to find a cure. If they found a cure for Crohn’s and I knew I had somehow been a part of that, that possibly some of the funding I had helped raise by walking and running, I would be over the moon. For me, that’s what this is all about. I’m doing it for all of us, for myself and Wes and anyone who gets Crohn’s.”

 

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or lgilbert@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord