Despite being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) in 2016, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t still be playing competitive basketball. In 2017 and 2018, my high school team traveled nationally and internationally to play, and it was an unforgettable experience. Basketball is a part of who I am. For someone who is just learning how to best manage IBD - I wanted to share my learning tools and hindsight as a competitive athlete. Do not give up who you are because of IBD - you will need to adjust and pay attention to your body, but you can continue to compete. There will be good days and bad days and that holds true for anything and everyone.

Staying strong and in good physical health is paramount to maintaining my overall well-being. But, during a flare, I also know that the best place to be is the quiet of my room. No exception. I’m no different than anyone else in this respect, but as an athlete there are certain things I’m consistently aware of and managing so I can stay competitive:

  • Sleep & Hydration. I drink water all day, every day. I also get short naps before practice and sleep more on average (even in remission) than many of my friends. Sleep is the most important thing to manage during your sports season. Without sleep, life with UC is hard and it’s simple as that. Sports drinks and juice, in my opinion, have too much sugar, so I have stuck to water for the last three years. Gatorade 2 on a special occasion; but only to replenish electrolytes.
  • Conditioning vs. Inflammation: UC is not specific to just my intestines; it’s multi-system inflammation. So, when I sprain an ankle (and don’t take Ibuprofen due to side effects), it takes longer for the inflammation to heal. It’s a lot of ice and daily PT. UC seems to have attacked all of my joints on occasion…knees, hips, wrists, ankles. It doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t participate as an athlete; it just requires extra stretching, more water, more awareness. In the off-season, it's important to maintain muscle strength with regular workouts too. I’ve had dry eyes and blepharitis (it’s basically inflammation that affects the eyelids) since a very young age and keep eye drops in my backpack, gym bag, and car.
  • Openness & Nutrition: My high school coach and my AAU coach are aware of my IBD and have been very supportive. Being comfortable talking about an IBD takes time, but communication will only help you. From pre-game food choices to unexpected bathroom breaks during practice…changes had to be made but UC has not impacted my game. Food choices are extremely important. Clean protein, fruits, and vegetables, super-foods, very minimal dairy. I don’t tolerate whey so protein shakes and bars don’t work for me but there are plenty of ways my family has found to keep up my caloric intake and maintain my health. Generally, I eat six small meals daily.
  • Stress & Mindfulness: Stress plays a role in my inflammation. Learning how to manage stress is an important skill. Breathing techniques, knowing when to take a break, finding time to be alone or in a quiet place all seem to help. A good workout can take my mind off a lot of things too. To maintain perspective and know not to sweat the small stuff in life has been something that I’ve lived by. Don’t let “random teenage drama” add to your stress. As an IBD patient, you have more important things to manage.
  • Adversity & Honesty: There is a difference between overcoming adversity and ignoring signs of a flare. I’ll never forget the spring of 2017 - both ankles were sprained, I had a pulled muscle in my groin and didn’t want to tell anyone that I was having intestinal issues. It all came to the surface in the middle of a basketball tournament. I found myself in the middle of a flare and that meant a prednisone regimen for the following few weeks. For me, large doses of prednisone have bad side effects (especially muscle tightness in my back). While all athletes can overcome adversity, it’s so important as IBD patients to communicate, pay attention to signs of a flare and take care of ourselves.

You will have success, and there will be setbacks…but isn’t that true of everyone? You are not alone and can do anything you set out to accomplish. Next year will be my senior year and I will be on the court - continuing for one more season to give all I can to the sport I love. UC is a part of me, and I am aware of it always, but it does not define me or what I plan to accomplish in high school and beyond.


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