By Gary Gibula, Special to the Tribune
12:30 pm, May 20, 2014

Alex Morris may only be 12, but the seventh grader is going well beyond her years in organizing a 5K race to benefit a celiac disease charity.

Alex, a student at Naperville’s Washington Junior High, like many Americans, suffers from the incurable autoimmune disorder gluten-sensitive enteropathy that commonly is treated by abstaining from foods containing wheat products.

Alex’s 5K race, called RAGE (Race for Answers to Gluten Enteropathy), will take place on June 8, with all proceeds being donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

The race will be timed professionally and will take place at the Danada Forest Preserve on Naperville Road, south of Butterfield Road. The event is sanctioned by USA Track & Field.

“I just wanted to do something to help other people who have this disease,” Alex said. “And I like to run.”

Alex’s mother said her daughter’s condition was diagnosed only recently.

“It was about two years ago that it seemed she should have been a little taller for her age,” Jody Morris said. “We had a blood test done with a pediatric gastroenterologist to rule out celiac disease, but it came back positive.”

As a result, the family had to start serving gluten-free foods to help Alex gain weight.

Alex Morris, 12, of Naperville, is organizing a 5K race to benefit people with celiac disease.

Alex Morris, 12, of Naperville, is organizing a 5K race to benefit people with celiac disease.

“The doctors said it should take up to another year for her to catch up to the size she should be,” Morris said.

Affecting 2.5 million Americans and about one in 100 people worldwide, celiac disease no longer is classified as a rare disorder.

“It’s one of the world’s most prevalent autoimmune diseases and actually is more prevalent in adults today,” said Marilyn Grunzweig Geller, the chief executive officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation. “Efforts like Alex’s draw attention that this is a real disease that she and her children and grandchildren will face, because it is a genetic disease.”

Celiac disease is a genetic condition caused by an inflammation reaction to the gluten protein found in wheat, which can prohibit the small intestine from absorbing nutrients. Geller said 83 percent of those with celiac disease are unaware they have the disorder.

With the help of her father, Alex contacted the foundation in April with the idea for a benefit race.

“Her effort is tremendous, especially for someone who’s just 12 years old and is taking charge of her own disease,” Geller said. “The social ramifications of being diagnosed at her age is the hard part. At birthday parties she can’t eat the pizza or cupcakes, and she’s the ‘different’ child. The fact that Alex is celebrating who she is and fighting back is just tremendous.”

According to Geller, those with celiac disease have a fourfold risk for stomach cancer, double the risk for coronary heart disease and a factor for complications from diabetes, osteoporosis, anemia, thyroid problems and a multitude of other disorders.

“May is Celiac Awareness Month,” said Geller. “The more people who know about the disease, the more people will be tested.”

Registration for the race is $30 and includes a commemorative T-shirt. A $25 donation is asked for participating in a companion one-mile fun walk. For more information, go to


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