When offensive tackle Willie Colon first committed to taking part in the Lupus Loop 5K Run & Walk five years ago, he knew he was doing it for a good reason.
His mother, Jean Davis, has suffered from lupus for years and Colon has seen firsthand the impact the disease can have.
But the more he became involved, the more he realized how many lives are affected by lupus and how important it is to get out there and spread the word to raise awareness and funds to help find a cure.
"I have been doing it for a while," said Colon. "We are getting some great feedback, people coming out and supporting it. It's tough this year with the economy. They have cut a lot of their budget out. We are trying to get more people involved with the awareness and hopefully we can raise money, where people can understand about it and people can help the cause. A lot of young girls and women are suffering from it and it's tough."
Despite suffering a season-ending triceps injury, Colon will once again participate in the Lupus Loop to benefit the Lupus Foundation of Western Pennsylvania on Saturday, Oct. 1 on the North Shore.
This year Colon is getting some help from the Willie Colon Youth Team Challenge for Lupus, spearheaded by Sarah Polito.
"Willie has been such a strong supporter and key asset for the Lupus Foundation," said Polito. "Willie has experienced firsthand what lupus can do to a person, so when Willie talks about the hardships of lupus, he is not making it up. He has seen what it can do through his mom.
"I think Willie is someone that a lot of people look up to and truly respect. Willie is a man of great integrity and so when he speaks out about lupus people really want to listen and learn. This is something the Lupus Foundation absolutely needs and is so grateful for."
Polito has been involved with the foundation for awhile as her mother suffers from lupus, but this year she has taken it to another level and as a part of her senior project at Shaler High School she initiated the challenge to help get young people involved and educate them about the disease, and that it doesn't just affect the health of the person who suffers from the disease.
"She has been through a lot," said Colon of Polito. "To step up and be an anchor behind this whole thing at such a young age is motivation. Her story is epic in itself, but she has led the way as far as bringing light that this can happen to anybody."
Polito was born with a complete heart block after a bad antibody stuck to her heart sensor when her mother was pregnant with her. Her heart steadily beats at 55-60 beats per minute and she has been able to maintain an active lifestyle that includes playing sports, but had to have pacemaker surgery last July to help her condition.
"Giving back to charity, especially the Lupus Foundation, is very important to me," said Polito. "Living with my Mom and her daily struggles from lupus, as well as my own due to her lupus, it has taught me that lupus is something worth fighting for. By giving back to the Foundation I am able to help and raise money to help get one step closer to finding a cure. The whole experience is extremely rewarding and it helps let patients know that people care and want to help.
"My goal is to make lupus a more well-known and understood disease and through the team challenge I truly believe that is possible."