‘Hope, strength, courage’

Published 10:42 pm Friday, March 16, 2012

Jessica Paschall is taking part in a half marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. She stretches for a training session at Smithfield’s Windsor Castle Rock Park.

By Matthew A. Ward


As if being diagnosed with a painful autoimmune disease while still at college wasn’t challenging enough, a young Suffolk woman has set her sights on raising $2,300 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

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Jessica Paschall, 22, an accounting student at Christopher Newport University, is selling purple wristbands with the words “Hope Strength Courage,” ahead of participating in the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon on June 2.

She is also planning a yard sale for an upcoming Saturday, with money raised going directly to Team Challenge, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s endurance training and fundraiser program.

Paschall said she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease with symptoms including intense abdominal pain, last July after “noticing things were just not right with my body.”

A doctor she visited about her symptoms had sent her home with two medications and scheduled a follow-up appointment for six weeks. But the symptoms grew worse, and on the way to see a different doctor late last August, Paschall wound up in an emergency room, where she was given fluids and pain medication before being sent home.

A couple of days later, she was back in ER with severe dehydration. An infection was diagnosed, and she was forced to medically withdraw from college.

Paschall has gone from taking 25, to between 12 and 15 pills a day, depending on the day. “For the most part, I go about my daily life,” she said. “I’m back in college, I graduate in May, and I have an internship at a CPA firm. I’m pretty busy, which shifts my mind off the disease.”

The run through Virginia’s wine country will cover 13.1 miles, and Paschall says she doesn’t know how her body will handle it.

“I’m very nervous,” she confided. “I’ve never put my body to the test like this, and since obviously I’ve got colitis, I’m not 100 percent sure how my body’s going to react to walking that much.”

Paschall’s team is D.C.-based, but a few members from Hampton Roads have been meeting for training in Virginia Beach on Saturdays. They’re also testing the water in some lead-up events, such as Virginia Beach’s Shamrock Marathon this weekend.

“We’re doing another one in May just to get us prepared for that race-type atmosphere,” Paschall said. “I’ve never done a big race like this.”

Raising awareness is part of Paschall’s motivation. “When I was first diagnosed, I had absolutely no idea what ulcerative colitis was,” she said. “It’s one of those diseases that’s kind of embarrassing to talk about, so in general people don’t really talk about it.”

She plans to pursue an MBA at Jacksonville University, and she paid tribute to her supportive friends, family and fiancé.

According to online medical journal Medscape.com, ulcerative colitis affects 1 million Americans. Crohn’s disease, which is the other major type of inflammatory bowel disease, affects seven Americans per 100,000. Both conditions are more common in women.

Support Jessica at active.com/donate/virginia12dc/JPaschall. Corporate sponsorship over $1,000 includes a logo on the team’s race jersey.