Training coach and CrossFit athlete Jenny LaBaw got an early start Saturday morning on what is to be a 500-mile run through the Colorado Rockies to raise awareness about epilepsy.
LaBaw, 33, was 8 when she was diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological condition characterized by seizures. This summer, she decided to take a break from competing with CrossFit, a strength and conditioning program, and raise awareness about her condition.
“I love Colorado; it’s my favorite place,” said LaBaw, a Rifle native but now a California resident. She and her supporters – including her mother, Cathy Desautels; boyfriend, Marcus Brown; friend, Vaughn Zellick; and his daughter, Tory Zellick, who is LaBaw’s massage therapist – set out northbound from the New Mexico/Colorado border at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The first stop was 25 miles away in Durango, the area that inspired LaBaw’s run.
“I came through Animas Canyon in June and just said, ‘It’s time,’” LaBaw said. The length of this run, which is expected to end Oct. 19, is new ground for her. Twenty-six miles is her longest marathon to date, but LaBaw’s intent to dissolve the “bad stigma” surrounding epilepsy trumps the arduous terrain before her.
“I want to give people confidence,” she said. “People are afraid of epilepsy; it’s someone losing control of their body. Way back when, people used to think someone having an epileptic seizure was possessed. I don’t think anyone thinks that now, but you hear things like, ‘I wouldn’t want someone with epilepsy flying my plane,’ which is ignorance.”
A lifelong athlete, LaBaw first entered the Reebok CrossFit Games in 2011 and placed sixth. Then in 2012, she took first in the competition for the northern California region. CrossFit partnered with LaBaw and agreed to release a three-part series about her journey, which LaBaw said is not just about epilepsy but also about sending a message on beating adversity.
She is averaging approximately 17 miles a day but plans to stagger the mileage between longer days and shorter days. LaBaw ended her first day Saturday afternoon at a Durango hotel where friends and family – and her two dogs – were waiting.
“She’s been wanting to do something other than compete,” Brown said. “I’m pretty proud of her.”
The distance and difficulty of LaBaw’s Rocky Mountain run imposes a risk with her condition, but that threat is always there, she said.
“There’s always a risk; you never know when and where it’s going to strike,” LaBaw said. But when things get tough, she abides by a mantra: “One moment, one chance, always.
“When it’s hard, I remember I get to do this. I’m lucky enough to do this,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to walk. You can always take one more step.”