My first experience with Get Your Guts In Gear was in 2006. I traveled to a new city and began a journey with a new group of people – none of whom I had ever met before. Like many other riders, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and I certainly couldn’t predict the positive impact this would have on my life, and the ways it would fuel me to help others have that same experience.
Get Your Guts In Gear’s tagline is, “It’s More Than A Ride”.
To truly explain this would require pages and pages of rambling blog postings and a box of tissues, but it’s true. I know it’s true from watching hundreds of participants over the years roll into the end of the ride, some with tears in their eyes, all with pride on their faces, and say “I get it. I know why you say it’s more than a ride”. Magic happens on GYGIG weekends.
I’ve done other rides for charity or just for fun, and I’ve gotten involved in a handful of other IBD organizations. But I always, always take the time out of my year to be there in June to reconnect with the GYGIG community and be a part of this event, which is truly unlike any other event, or community, I’ve ever encountered.
Here are my top 10 reasons to keep riding GYGIG:
10. The support and positivity. I noticed on my first day of my first year, was that every single person I met was open, friendly, positive, and supportive. Throughout that ride and subsequent rides, I have found that this attitude persists and is passed down every year. People are unconditionally understanding of any GI issues, whether they be at the camp bathrooms, or on the ride. People that come out to ride and spend many legs in the sweep van get just as much support and praise as those who are strong riders or healthy people. This has become a comfortable place for people to discuss non-GI issues that they are dealing with, only to be met with the same support and understanding. Let’s face it, everyone has obstacles to overcome, and who understand that better than those who live with chronic illness. I’ve never found a place where everyone is so eager to help each other out and dole out support. I wish all of life was like this.
9. The challenge. The first few years of riding GYGIG, I was sick with Colitis symptoms. This meant camping close to the port-a-potty, using it first thing in the morning, sending an extra pair of bike shorts in the sweep van, and packing my seat bag with Immodium and Tums. Those are the years that finishing the ride meant the most to me, when I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’ve seen other people that are battling similar symptoms, or people that aren’t athletic to begin with, or people that weren’t sure they had properly trained, finish the ride as best they could. Those people are the proudest of their accomplishments, and have no regrets about coming out and doing this event.
Sometimes as patients of a chronic illness, we have to re-define success. It’s not finishing the fastest, or winning a medal, or qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Sometimes, for us, there is more success in just getting out there and doing something like GYGIG, despite our disease, and never giving up when we’re already fighting something harder. And let me tell you, the reward is sweet.
8. Traveling, or showing off my city. Making a mini-vacation out of the New York ride in the early summer is the highlight of my year. The first time, we did every tourist thing we had time for. I began sleeping on GYGIG friends’ couches, and spent time discovering some more local flavor. Then the ride starts and I get to see the gorgeous Hudson River Valley, small towns, and upstate NY. I feel like I have so many memories along every mile of the GYGIG ride, and I’ve carved out a special place in New York that I get to return to each year.
I was beyond excited when GYGIG chose to add the Midwest ride. I grew up here and I love the chance to show off my region! We are full of friendly people, rolling countryside, and a wonderfully sized city that allows you to experience urban flavor, then pedal out to a lake or a state park in no time. Did I mention we also have tons of microbreweries and fresh cheese? And some of the best cycling events and organizations in the country? Well we do, and I’m proud to show it off each fall.
7. Getting my friends and family involved. My mom has been an all-star crew member for many rides, doing basically whatever is asked of her with a smile on her face and orange pom pom in her hand. I know she loves this community as much as I do, and over the years, it has become as important to her as it has to me, an IBD patient. It means a lot to have friends and family come out, give up a weekend, and do this for me.
But what I really love about having these people on GYGIG with me is that they get a chance to meet other people with the same disease, and learn other IBD points of view. Although I am open about discussing Colitis, I don’t like to complain when it gets tough, so I might not tell the whole story. My friends and family that come out get a bigger picture of what it’s like to live with Crohns or Colitis. It’s a fantastic learning experience for a caregiver.
6. The laughter. Maybe something about having a bowel disease makes you not take life so seriously. Maybe spending hours on a bike makes you giddy. Maybe sleeping in fresh air relaxes you. Probably a combination of these. I can tell you that I have never, ever laughed so hard in my life than I have on these events, among these people. I have laughed until I cried, and until I couldn’t breathe. Whether I can’t even remember what we laughed about, or we form inside jokes that last forever, there’s just something about the combination of amazing people and this great weekend that encourages excessive amounts of laughter.
5. The connections. GYGIG has introduced me to people I never would have met. One of my best memories is sharing our hotel room in NYC with whoever wanted it. We had people from different locations, backgrounds, and walks of life, all brought together by the common thread of IBD, and I remember thinking at that moment, there’s no place I’d rather be, and no one I’d rather be with.
I love hearing everyone’s unique stories. People are open about their experience with their disease, or about the legacy of people for whom they ride. People talk about their struggles, their surgeries, and their medications; their jobs and relationships, their families. I feel like no matter what issue I have, I can turn to someone that can relate. I’ve introduced these friends to new people who have questions about IBD that I can’t answer. I’ve built an incredible network of other IBD patients. Everyone is so different, yet so the same, and for a weekend, we are all brought together for the same mission.
4. Being in GYGIG world for a weekend is magical. I’ve heard GYGIG weekend described as “summer camp on wheels”. That’s a pretty accurate description, I think. Starting from the meeting the night before, till the very end, where there are countless hugs and tears and see you next years, we are part of something unique. During the miles on the bike, the time spent at rest stops, and hanging out at camp, conversations are had, jokes are told, and friendships are formed that are so special to this event. I put my cell phone away and savor this time with my friends, new and old. I leave the makeup at home and stop worrying about my helmet hair and find the best sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. I belong here.
One thing that is truly special is that for this weekend, we’re just us. We’re patients of IBD, we’re ostomates, we’re friends and family, or people that are just interested in making a difference. We escape from the outside world for a weekend, and create this environment where strength in spite of your disease is the standard, and urgent trips to the toilet are normal. We’re not just a bunch of people injected into a bigger event, but we make our own group, and every year it is that environment that keeps people coming back and attracts new ones. There is truly nothing like GYGIG weekend. I get more excited for this than I do for Christmas.
3. I get to make a difference. The money raised for GYGIG goes to an array of great organizations. I love that the beneficiaries are hand chosen, and maintain relationships with GYGIG. Some of the organizations are large, such as CCFA. The GYGIG money that goes here doesn’t go into a general fund, but directly towards research grants. The smaller beneficiaries such as Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness truly appreciate the funding they receive, and it makes a difference for their non-profits to keep going and keep helping others. They give the most heartfelt thank you speeches at closing, and I’m reminded that all my fundraising really makes a difference.
Learn more about what GYGIG beneficiaries are doing with this IBD Infographic.
2. The ongoing positive effect this has on the rest of my year. The first year I did GYGIG, I thought it would be a fun way to do something about my disease and raise some money and awareness, but clearly it has impacted me a lot more than that. My first experience with GYGIG was a turning point; it was the first time I had ever met anyone else with my disease, been able to discuss it openly and hear others do the same, and it was when I began to see my disease as a source of empowerment, rather than something to be bitter about. This is a trait that is so invaluable, and allows me to be successful with GYGIG, other IBD organizations, and inspire those around me. What could be better than that?
1. It really is a family, and every year we get to grow it. Spoiler: Sappy alert! There are so many reasons that I keep coming back to GYGIG. When my fundraising efforts stall, or I feel like I don’t have enough time to train, or making travel plans gets overwhelming, I stop and remember why I do this, and why I want to bring others into this community, and it makes it all worth it again. I’ve met some of the best friends I could imagine on this ride. I’ve never been a part of a community where I feel so comfortable, and feel like I belong. GYGIG is my friends, my family, and my support group. There are people I turn to when I need to talk about IBD, or need a good laugh. There are people I look to for inspiration and strength to get through another flare. There are a million reasons to visit friends all over the country. And I know I’m not the only one that feels this way.
Every year when we get to the meeting the night before the ride, it’s like a family reunion. We hug and laugh and talk about the upcoming weekend, and it’s like we picked up right where we left off last year, hopefully all in better health. We notice the new people and say hi, and do our best to make sure everyone is taken care of. They think it’s funny, but we let them know that by the end of the ride, they’ll feel like they’ve known us forever. Then at the end of the weekend, they tell us that we’re right. This is the part of GYGIG that I just can’t say enough about. And I really can’t put it into words. But I’m eternally grateful that I registered that first year, and I can only imagine how much worse off my attitude, and life, would be, without this experience.
What are your reasons for participating in GYGIG? Share them on our Facebook page!