After about a dozen visits to the emergency room, Beth Launiere recognized that a less drastic way to manage her illness probably existed.
Utah's women's volleyball coach is more conscious of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in combating Crohn's disease, rather than just allowing the symptoms to become unbearable. Launiere, 56, was diagnosed as a teenager. She's approaching her 30th season with the Utes, thriving in the profession amid the stress and inconsistent eating habits that affect her health even more than the average coach.
“I've obviously had the attitude that I'm never going to be a victim of this disease,” she said. “It was never going to keep me from doing what I wanted to do. That is absolutely the case.”
That’s the message Launiere will share Saturday during the fund-raising Take Steps Walk at Sugar House Park, where she’ll be recognized by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation as an “Honored Hero.” She’s not entirely comfortable with that description, but is embracing the idea of becoming a spokeswoman and helping others cope with the inflammatory bowel disease that may affect as many as 780,000 Americans, according to the foundation.
Like most coaches, Launiere often talks to her team about playing through adversity. She's hoping to be an example to the players.
“We're not an easy team to deal with; I know I couldn't do it,” said Ute star Kenzie Koerber. She's only partly kidding, remembering how Launiere's young club struggled for much of last season before coming together and reaching the NCAA Tournament's round of 32.
Utah's players will join in the foundation event Saturday. “That's the slightest thing we can do to show our respect for her and our admiration for what she does,” Koerber said. “It's definitely become something she's more open about, which has been nice to be able to help her and understand her circumstances.”
TAKE STEPS WALK
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of Salt Lake City will stage the Take Steps Walk on Saturday at Sugar House Park. Beth Launiere and Dr. John F. Valentine of the University of Utah will speak at 11 a.m., followed by a casual walk around the park, volleyball with Ute players and other activities.
That’s also one way for Launiere to remind herself about attending to her own needs. “I do talk to my players a lot about life balance, figuring out how to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — and I believe in that wholeheartedly,” she said.
Launiere has arrived at this point after episodes such as needing medical attention in the Czech Republic while coaching a touring American team and going to a hospital in the Bay Area, between Utah's matches against Stanford and California. In 2017, she underwent surgery to remove an 8-inch section of her small bowel.
After detailing her condition in a Volleyball magazine story that year, Launiere heard from young coaches who appreciated her candor and advice, while facing their own issues.
“I've never seen it as something awful,” she said. “It's just a disease that needs to be dealt with.”
That's her approach with the Utes. Some days, she'll tell the players she won't be able to coach them as actively in practice, or have to skip the session. Yet she keeps giving the job her full effort, in one of the Pac-12's top-tier sports.
She’s a better patient now than in the days when the medicine was so harsh to her system that she felt better doing without it — until the pain forced her into the ER, periodically. Launiere is more conscious of her diet and better able to govern herself, compared with the experience of “trying to build this program in the early years, when I was really stressed to the max,” she said. “I didn’t have good balance. I’ve definitely learned to manage it much better.”
Inflammatory bowel diseases are “not something people are really loving to talk about,” Launiere acknowledged.
She’s more willing than ever to discuss the subject, though, hoping to help others. If that means being labeled a hero just this once, Launiere can live with it.