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Overcoming Serious Illness


Multisport Consultants
Overcoming Serious Illness

Triathlon Coaching Team  |  Nick Croft  |  Jessica Fleming  |  Success Stories  |  Event Management  | 
Nick Croft - Career Achievements  |  Nick Croft - Overcoming Illness


How would it feel to be so weak that you were unable to get out of bed to go to the window to have a look outside? Or have diarrhea so bad that you were going to the toilet 30 times a day all while passing blood with each visit!

Nick Croft in hospital after suffering from infectious ColitisThis was what former professional triathlete Nick Croft at 27 years of age in 1995 was faced with during his 4th season of racing in France. In July of 1999 Nicks battle with his intestinal problems ended when his large intestine was surgically removed in a 4 hour operation at Royal Brisbane Hospital.

A four-month stint with a colostomy bag ensued until a second operation in November 1999 completed the 2-stage operation. A new intestine was fashioned from the last 23 inches of Nick’s small intestine to make a “W” pouch during the first operation, which over time will slowly adapt to the role of the large intestine.

Nothing much has been said of Nicks demise from the World and Australian scenes. “People still come and ask if I just decided to pull the pin” says Nick as to why he doesn’t compete any more. The truth of the matter is that, the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) - Ulcerative Colitis, struck down Croft only 2 weeks after arriving for his French club Salon de Provence in 1995. He spent 8 weeks in hospital, which saw his weight plummet from 72 to 58kg and in fact nearly lose his life. “I spent 5 days in intensive care and had to be fed via a central line in my neck as I couldn’t eat”. “At the time the French doctors diagnosed me as having infectious Colitis, that is I picked it up perhaps through contaminated water”. Croft was released once he was strong enough to make the trip back to Australia but after a month was readmitted to a Brisbane hospital with a fever and the symptoms starting again.

It was then that the Doctors made the diagnosis as Ulcerative Colitis. The disease is an inflammation of the mucous membrane layer of the colon. The disease is not contagious and is thought that individuals that contract it may have an underlying genetic predisposition to it. One of many theories is that they come into contact with an infectious agent. Anyone can get Inflammatory Bowel Disease, but young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 are most susceptible. Symptoms range from mild to severe and include any or all of the following: persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramps, passing blood, fever and weight loss and skin or eye irritations. Both the cause and cure for IBD are unknown.

Nick Croft recovering in hospitalTo treat it a variety of anti-inflammatory and Immunosuppressive drugs can be prescribed; including the cortio steroid Prednisone which itself can have some very nasty side effects. Surgery is reserved for patients that medication can no longer control the symptoms.

“The actual pain and mental torture that this disease places on the sufferer is simply one that cannot be described. At times it is best simply put as a living hell. All of this was devastating to Croft at the time, as it seemed that his professional triathlon career would be put on hold or possibly even terminated. “While I was in the French hospital I had planned out my whole next season of racing and training”. “I didn’t even enter my mind that this may be the end of the career”.

Nick felt as if he had only started, even though he had been around since the sports infancy in Australia and had over 130 triathlons under his belt with 35 wins and 30 podiums over distances across the board.

The 1986 Australian Long Course Champion and 2 time Noosa Triathlon winner had just started to venture to the Ironman distance, completing 2 events, making his debut at Europe’s oldest Ironman at Almere Holland in 8.26. He followed that up with a 4th at what is considered one of the hardest Ironman races on the circuit at Lanzorote in the Canary Islands in 8.48 in 1994. Even though the Disease struck Croft down in 1995 he started to have intestinal problems at the end of 1992 after his first European trip. “A few weeks after I returned to Australia, I started to have cramps and started to pass some blood when I went to the toilet”.

A visit to the local GP came up with a hemorrhoid and a subsequent Colonoscopy came up with possibly a touch of irritable bowel. “I went back to France in ’93 and again the symptoms returned, but much worse”. I was racing on a few occasions and had terrible diarrhea with the passing of blood and knew something wasn’t right. A Local Doctor gave me anti diarrhea medication and after 1 month the symptoms disappeared” A slow decline of health and race form and performances crept into Nicks racing during this period.

Nick Croft head coach of Multisport ConsultantsLooking back now, Nick feels that even though he was supremely fit his actual health was slowly deteriorating to the point that he wasn’t able to finish races for the first time in his career. “I had some shocking performances at times – especially in 1994 and early 1995 which can be in some part be I feel can be contributed to my impending time bomb”. When it looked like his pro career had run it’s course Nick found it a bitter pill to swallow. “There was a time that I just walked around in a daze still not being able to comprehend what was happening to me or the why me? Type thinking”. I had to make a decision as to what my next option was.

One of those was to decide whether to stay in the sport that had been so good to me or to move on”. He decided to stay.

Nick started coaching age groupers at the start of the 1995/96 season. “It was a tough transition but one I found my self really enjoying once my health stabilised”. Some of the drugs I had to stay on for life, but fortunately the Cortico - Steroids were only needed if I had a bad flare up”.

It was a constant battle right up to the surgery in 1999, as the nature of thedisease is to run a course of seemingly good heath for a while, than flare up. By April 1999 Nick had been on Prednisone for 5 Months straight due to an attack and was on a massive dose of 125mg per day with little effect. He was put in Royal Brisbane Hospital for a week to try and stabilise his health. “This is when Surgery was talked of for the first time. I’d be lying if I said that the thought of surgery didn’t scare me. I had gone down every natural medicine road there was. You name it I tried it – from Chinese medicine, to acupuncture, naturopaths, special diets, magic potions – I tried them all and listened toeveryone who gave me any hope.” The fact is, is that I had a physical disease that no natural medicine was going to cure.

Today Nick has built back up to a healthy 73kg and is back swimming, riding and running to stay fit. So will we see Nick Croft racing once again? In 2002 Nick made steps to racing again as an age grouper at the Cairns Half Ironman. It was shock to the system but a time of 4.35 was a step in the right direction and the health was good.

Nick Croft competing at the 2008 Noosa TriathlonTen weeks later and doing the Forster Half Ironman an age group win was achieved and a time of 4.20 with a 13th overall out of 900 participants really showed to Nick that maybe he could do this at an ok level again. An injury laid to rest the remainder of the season but the signs are there and the confidence is returning so hopefully an Ironman in the not to distant future is on the cards. “The last thing I want to do is wreck the good health I’ve managed to find again by jumping in to quick”. I’m still heavily involved in the sport with age group coaching and writing programs by correspondence and online.” Add to that, organising Triathlon Training Camps at Noosa, event commentary, doing the Weet-Bix Aussie Kids school visits and organising the Life Stream Triathlon Festival in Mackay, North Queensland, Nick has a lot on his plate.

Nick would finally like to thank those in the Triathlon community who sent theirsupport during the tough times. Hundreds of emails and cards came through and Nick attributes his quick recovery to this support along with a positive attitude.

“The Locals at Noosa have also been fantastic. “There’s a difference between being fit and being healthy – I was fit but very unhealthy. I hope I can be of some help to those out there with inflammatory bowel disease also.” There is always nsomebody out there worse off – I know because I saw these people during my hospital stays. I really do believe that I have been handed a gift, which haschanged my life for the better. It makes being an athlete, seem not so important anymore. I do know that I enjoy each day as it comes now”.

Triathlon Coaching Team  |  Nick Croft  |  Jessica Fleming  |  Success Stories  |  Event Management  | 
Nick Croft - Career Achievements  |  Nick Croft - Overcoming Illness


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