I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in July, 2013 when I was 21-years-old. I was attending the University of California, Berkeley with a full ride scholarship for cross-country and track & field. I ran personal bests in every event and was as healthy as could be. In fact, things were going so well that I even traveled to Europe to race competitively during the summer.
The relationship a competitive athlete has with running is extremely unique. On one hand, it's a huge source of stress—competing and training at high levels, with exceedingly high expectations can make life stressful at times. But at the same time, running is the ultimate stress relief.
It all started in February, 2013 when I noticed something inside just wasn't feeling right. At first, the symptoms seemed manageable and I was still running, but I felt something was holding me back. The illness progressed quickly as I was heading into my senior year of college. I had severe anemia, excruciating pain in my abdomen, I wasn’t sleeping well, and lost about 20 pounds. The lack of success of practically every medication on the market became extremely frustrating.
The hardest part of ulcerative colitis for me wasn’t so much the pain, but how I was dealing with losing everything that defined me. In the span of eight months, I felt like I lost my identity to an invisible illness. The physical and emotional toll can be difficult, even for the strongest people.
One day the pain was so bad that I went to see my GI doctor. He took one look at my frail body and admitted me to the hospital. I had to withdraw from school during my final semester, and I had emergency ileostomy surgery on March 6, 2014 at age 22. After the surgery I felt better almost immediately! Within a couple of weeks I was hiking and pain-free, with the exception of some post-operative recovery pain that comes with any major surgery. It was during one of my first post-op hikes when I felt inside that this surgery was meant to be.
I made it my goal to come back stronger than ever. I returned to UC Berkeley in the Spring of 2015, completed my degree in Media Studies, and even competed for the Track & Field team in my final collegiate season. I’ve backpacked across New Zealand and Italy, and I hold the “ostomate” World Record (unofficial, of course) in the mile, 3k steeplechase, and 5k.
If it hadn’t been for the unrelenting support of my family, friends and sponsors, I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today. This terrible disease has given me the ability to truly see what I have, not what I have lost. I'm proud to represent Stealth Belt and have met so many amazing people in the ostomy community. I've grown stronger as a person and truly appreciate the little things. Surround yourself with positive people and good things are sure to happen!