Chloe Kennebeck knows what it's like to deal with an illness.
The 13-year-old Glen Ellyn girl was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease four years ago after experiencing months of abdominal pain, headaches and seizures. She ended up missing about half her sixth-grade school year when the illness flared, and she spent time visiting doctors, undergoing tests and receiving treatment at hospitals.
It's a disease that involves inflammation of the digestive tract. Two types are ulcerative colitis, which affects a portion of the tract, and Crohn's disease, which affects the entire tract.
Chloe was diagnosed with the former, and now has the latter. But she hasn't let either get in her way.
She's become an avid runner since completing a half marathon in California last year to raise research funds for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.
And this Saturday, she'll be running in her second half marathon -- this one on Chicago's lakefront -- in tribute to a family friend who is going through some of the same physical struggles she is -- but many more as well.
Chloe met 12-year-old Daniel Hess at the pool at their parents' country club. Daniel not only has Crohn's disease, but also autism and cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects the heart, facial features, skin and hair. He also has limited verbal and communication skills.
"When I found out he had Crohn's like I did and other illnesses, I thought it'd be nice to run for him," said Chloe, an eighth-grader at Hadley Junior High School.
Chloe has become a resource for the Hess family, answering questions about how particular medications may make Daniel feel when he's screaming and can't precisely explain it to family members.
"When Chloe found out there was a child who had similar pains she was having but couldn't express himself, it really hit her hard," said Julie Kennebeck, Chloe's mother. "So she asked this year to run again."
Chloe will be running in the Allstate Life Insurance Chicago 13.1 Marathon that steps off at 7 a.m. Saturday at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago. She's part of the 15-member Illinois division of Team Challenge, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's endurance training and fundraising program.
She's surpassed her $1,900 fundraising goal for the race, having already secured $4,210. In the past three years, she's raised more than $10,000 for research into inflammatory bowel diseases.
When she ran in the California half marathon last July from Napa to Sonoma, she was the youngest runner out of 3,500 participants. She finished fifth in the 12-20 age group.
She decided she wanted to run that race after a flier about it came in the mail. Julie Kennebeck says it was a time when Chloe was depressed about not being able to play travel soccer or compete on the swim team like she used to because of her disease.
"I said, 'We can't even keep you in school. We're not going to California to run a marathon,'" her mother said. "She was just looking for something to motivate her and to prove that she can still be a kid and an athlete. It was her pushing because she felt inside she could prove to be a normal teenage kid."
And so Chloe convinced her mom and her doctors that she could run the race, figuring that if she could go through daily activities with her condition, she could run through them. She also had to ask special permission from the race director because the race had been sold out.
Her mother, a runner herself, accompanied Chloe on the half marathon.
"Her jersey said, 'I'm 12 years old and running for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation,'" Julie Kennebeck said. "Mine said, 'I'm old and running for her.'"
Chloe's dad, Kevin, will be running with her in the race on Saturday.
Chloe said her fellow runners from Team Challenge, who she's been training with since February, have provided an important support system.
"It's been nice to have other people like the team to be with and other people to talk to," Chloe said. "It's motivating when you can run in a group and they understand what you're going through."