Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Story: You Can Still Be A Bodybuilder If You Have Crohn’s Disease

Hi. My name is Jack and I'm a Crony.

Jack shares his story to encourage others 

I was raised in a small town in Massachusetts and now I live in Las Vegas, in the USA.  Crohn's Disease was a part of my life since 1988, after 14 years of rarely even catching a cold or getting sick at all. Before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I was an ambitious and competitive top state soccer player, starting and winning on many all-star and regional teams.

It took many months, several doctors and even more days and nights of lying in the fetal position on my bed (or the floor) from extraordinary and severe pain before I was finally diagnosed accurately. I've heard so many times all the typical excuses and brush-offs like “Don’t worry about it” and "It's all in your head" or "It's just gas".  It was the worst news ever. When I was finally diagnosed I could hardly fathom the news. When I asked the doctor about a cure or fix, he said “Sorry but unfortunately, there is no cure”. And I was left absolutely devastated.

Since 1988 I have had countless surgeries… and resections… and abscesses… and fistulas… and fissures… with the obstructions, the fatigue, the dehydration and all the other "minor" complications just piling up. 

I, like most other people after this kind of diagnosis, found myself going through the phases of trying to come to terms with everything. I went through the "why me?!" phase.  Then followed by the "what the hell!!" phase and then the "come on, really?!" phase. Now I have decided to start a new phase on my journey, a phase of victory.

Firstly, the reason why I’m sharing my story is to promote the benefits of health, physical activity, wellness, positive attitude, nutrition, fitness and also my support group. I started the Breaking Crohn’s Disease community to give people like myself a much needed outlet with a support group while dealing and learning to live with Crohn’s Disease. I started it to let other people out there know that you can overcome this disease.
"It just takes GUTS"

 I also compete in Men’s Physique bodybuilding competitions every year. Men’s Physique is one of the sub-divisions of bodybuilding. Contestants in this subclass are judged on body aesthetics, shape and muscle symmetry. Where it is different from other the bodybuilding divisions is that contestants wear board shorts and do not display usual bodybuilding poses in the competitions. Men’s Physique competitors look a lot more like fitness models compared to usual bodybuilders, since extreme muscularity is not what they are going for and is actually marked against them. I really like the idea behind Men’s Physique because contestants have more opportunity to reach these goals based on what is most appealing instead of working to become a 280 pound (127 kg) bodybuilder. I personally find it more appealing to the crowd and more attainable for the general public. It also helps to create a larger following and provides opportunities to a wider audience for bodybuilding.

I do not enter these competitions to show off my 'good looks’. It is more than that to me. The biggest reason that I want to do this is to raise awareness of Crohn’s Disease and motivate people while showing them that lots of things are still possible, DESPITE having such a debilitating disease such as Crohn’s Disease. A lot of people with Crohn’s disease are severely under-nourished and look like I did 20 plus years ago when I was 160 pounds (72.5 kg). I really want to be a motivation - proving to other people with Crohn’s that it is possible to get your symptoms under control and live a purpose-led, healthy, active and athletic life.

Because I compete, I have personal goals to work towards every year and even accomplishments to be proud of. Placement is not the most important thing to me. I don’t mind whether I get placed first or last in the shows (although I aim for 1st and would be happy to be placed 1st). I enjoy the personal challenges and being able finish what I’ve put my mind to. I’ve had to learn overcome more challenges than most of the other contestants in the competitions, so stepping on stage is a big achievement on its own for me.

I want to show people with my disease what can be possible while pushing the limits of their body and mind even with a debilitating chronic disease like mine. I have had good days, and I have had bad days. But it’s not for sympathy. I do not want people to feel sorry for me. That’s not my motivation. I want to raise awareness about a relatively unknown disease that many people have not heard about. People take a look at me and initially see my physical appearance. But there is so much more to my story. My story is much more than just my physical achievements and I want to represent more than that. It’s about dedication and the fact that you can be what you want to be. Disease can only stop your dreams if you let it. I really hope to make a difference in someone’s life - be it big or small. I hope that I can be the motivation that someone out there can use to improve their life. That is my real dream.

My goal is to provide motivation and show what has helped me deal with these challenges so that others can do better for themselves as well. Let people look at me and be motivated to pursue their own dreams without fear or defeat. Exercise is my natural antidepressant and it can be the same for others. That is one of the biggest reasons why it is so important for me to stay physically active. As someone living with Crohn’s disease, it is often hard to maintain a positive mind set. Exercise is such a great way to help you feel more upbeat in life, become more in-tune with your body, and helps to prepare you for so many other potential obstacles that you will face in your life with Crohn’s Disease. If a bad flare exhausts you and when you feel especially drained from surgery, it is good to know that resuming some form of enjoyable exercise is a sign that you are returning back to independence and your personal self-care routine. Sometimes, finding time to exercise will be challenging, but it sure is the best motivation to recall what it felt like to be sick and unable to exercise, or even move and see how far you have come. Remember those feelings when you find yourself unenthusiastic about exercising. Make the most out of every day that you have in life. The time that you have to be strengthening your body is a privilege for all of us; one that Crohn’s can sometimes take away from you. Always take advantage of the opportunities you have to work out!

“WHAT TYPE OF BODY DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN?”  You still have the choice. You can decide to control your disease instead of letting it control you. You can be the master of this! It is difficult at first, but like with everything else, practice makes perfect. Every day CAN be better than the last. Take it from me; you will notice improvements both in the severity of symptoms and your enjoyment of life.

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