Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect event changes.
By Emily Williams
Vestavia Hills High School junior Linden Cundiff and Briarwood Christian School senior John Wolf are spending the first months of their summer vacation motivating communities across north-central Alabama.
The two students have been recognized by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation as “honored heroes” for the July 25 Take Steps Birmingham fundraiser.
Both battle debilitating digestive diseases. Cundiff has Crohn’s disease and Wolf is living with ulcerative colitis.
According to the foundation, these two diseases affect more than 3.1 million people in the United States, including an estimated 80,000 patients who are under the age of 18.
Cundiff and her parents first noticed that something was wrong with her health when she was in sixth grade and her knee started to painfully swell.
Failing to find a diagnosis after meeting with a rheumatologist, she had further testing with a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
At the time, Cundiff had lost a lot of weight and was anemic. Though it took some time to find the right treatment, by eighth grade, she was finally in remission and feeling better.
“Remission hasn’t been a completely smooth road, as I have had ups and downs and gone in and out of remission over the last three years,” Cundiff said.
One of the most steadfast aspects of her journey with the disease, she said, has been her participation in the foundation’s Camp Oasis, one of the many aspects of the foundation that will benefit from funds raised by Take Steps.
“Camp Oasis is genuinely one of my favorite weeks of the year because not only is it a place to meet kids who have experienced the same things as I have but also to have a truly fun camp experience,” she said.
Unlike Cundiff, Wolf can’t recall a time when he did not have ulcerative colitis. He suffered from intestinal issues as a baby and was diagnosed by the age of 3.
After his diagnosis, Wolf received steroids and IV infusions of medications that provided little help. At age 5, he had his entire large intestine removed, the first of seven surgeries he has had in his 18 years of life.
Wolf has endured numerous trials beyond hospital visits and operating rooms, including having liver complications and spending much of his kindergarten year with an ileostomy bag.
“(Ulcerative colitis) has motivated me to beat the odds, and I believe I have,” said Wolf. “I have made all A’s in the most rigorous curriculum available to me. I won the high school tennis state championship three times in a row and even set a state record. I was selected to the All-State tennis team, and I achieved the honor of being a National Merit Qualifier. However, the most important accomplishment in my life was raising $5,000 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s Take Steps Birmingham walk last spring.”
Wolf has set a goal this year to try to exceed his 2019 fundraising total.
Through the Take Steps fundraiser, July 25, Cundiff, Wolf and their fellow participants will raise funds for the foundation’s mission to increase awareness for digestive diseases, support patients and fund research for better treatments and, ultimately, cures for inflammatory bowel diseases.
The walk will now be a drive-up only ceremony at 9 Office Park Circle in Mountain Brook.
After joining to pick up prizes and hear from honored heroes via radio, participants will walk their distance of choice from home in celebration of the 2020 campaign. Those who wish to join virtually can watch via video on Facebook @ccfaalabamanwflorida.
For more information, visit cctakesteps.org/Birmingham or contact Emily Richter at (646) 387-2149 or firstname.lastname@example.org.