Diving Into Triathlons

Sarah Michel tackles her Crohn’s disease by challenging her fitness limits and setting herself ambitious goals.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005 in my final year of university, and the disease worsened in 2012, which was the same year I had to go on Humira.

I studied in Germany in 2014 as part of my Master’s degree. I spent most of the six months travelling around Europe and going to a different country each weekend. This was a challenge with all the different types of food and time spent on trains and on foot. I would become quite anxious about finding toilet facilities while I was travelling.

Starting my fitness journey

In 2016, I went on the Great Wall Challenge for CCA and during this process I got fit, lost over 10kgs and got my BMI down from 34 to 29 in one year. I have continued my fitness training since then as I found the benefits of increased energy and a decrease of my other symptoms, such as pain, outweighed the monetary cost of a personal trainer. I also really believe that the training taught me about mental strength as much as it did about physical strength. I really took notice of what I could tolerate (such as pain) and used goal setting skills and confidence brought on experience cheering them all on and I was inspired by them to continue participating in triathlon events.

“I may have ups and downs with my Crohn’s but I look for things that I can achieve to take back some of the control over my life.”

It is now two years since I started training, and although I have active Crohn’s disease, I still feel quite well.I participated in the run as part of CCA’s Live Fearless Challenge which I can’t ever imagine myself doing before taking up the fitness training in 2016. I have also recently completed the 10km run at the Gold Coast Marathon festival and the 5km run at the Sunshine Coast Marathon festival over the past four months.

Learning to know my strengths

In February 2018, I competed in the Luke Harrop Memorial Triathlon at the Gold Coast. A few weeks later, however, it was the Mooloolaba Triathlon on the Sunshine Coast that was my biggest challenge. This event is only one length. It is a 1.5km ocean swim, 40km bike and 10km run. I was participating again as part of a team in the swim leg. This was the longest swim I had ever done in an event and my first ocean swim. The water looked relatively calm from the shore but as with the Kingscliff event, when I got into the water the swell from the movement of the water was quite big. The first part of this swim to the first buoy was the hardest. I thought I may drown or, worse, need to be rescued by the volunteers. I felt like every other swimmer had passed me and that I was the slowest one in the water. Occasionally there were people who swam over the top of me trying to get past as visibility was low and they didn’t see me. I started to panic but I didn’t want to let my team down and wanted to finish the swim, so I remember having to give myself a stern talking to (all while putting one arm in front of the other). I said to myself that I can do this, I knew I was a confident swimmer, and I knew that I would remember to breathe, so I concentrated instead on what my mind was doing. I remembered all the things I had achieved and the goals that I had worked towards. I had my family and my personal trainer’s voice in my head. They always had confidence in me and I gave myself permission to have the confidence to do it. Once I got to the first buoy, it became easier because that goal initially felt impossible.

One buoy at a time, I created new goals for myself. As I got out of the water and ran to meet Stu, who was waiting at the beginning of the bike leg, he said to me he couldn’t believe how quick I was. This was really confusing for me because I thought for sure that I was one of the last people out of the water, but instead, there were many people waiting at the bike leg for their swimmers to come in.

I learned a lot about myself that day, especially the joy of participating as part of a team, having a support crew with you to cheer you on, what you can do, even if you don’t believe it and have to talk yourself into it, and how great it is to achieve goals that you set for yourself.

On the back of these goals, in 2018, I took up study again. After 10 years of thinking about it, I have gone back to complete my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) program in Archaeology. I didn’t take on this two year study goal lightly as I knew that working fulltime and studying part-time would be challenging, but I had more confidence that I could achieve whatever I aimed for. The fitness has meant I am not as fatigued as I was before 2016 and I am a lot more goal-oriented now.

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