Walking off my troubles

Justan Singh rediscovers his passion for fitness and wellbeing.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, I was about eight years old, my dad and the doctor were talking and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. All I wanted was the pain to go away. The doctor turned to me and told me I was going to be on medications for the rest of my life, that I had Crohn’s disease and that it was incurable. The pain I felt was something I would have to face continually throughout my life. At that moment I didn’t know what to do and all I wanted was a normal life; a normal life playing with other kids. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.

I hated taking the medications and they all tasted terrible. They became stronger and stronger as the years went by. Surgeries then entered the picture for perianal fistulas. One of the activities I really enjoyed when I was a kid was bike riding and because of these fistulas I was forced to stop because it was too painful to sit on the seat. I ended up giving up on sports or doing anything physical because I would have a lot of bleeding in my underwear as a result of the constant removal of fistulas. It reached a point where I was using tampons because there was so much blood. Not a lot of people knew that about me

By coincidence, it was around the same time that COVID-19 entered the picture that I had begun to reignite my interest in physical fitness as well as general wellbeing. Previously, I had always associated exercise with pain but because of the support and inspiration from a good friend and mentor, I began to understand it differently. He showed me that health and fitness were not as hard as I thought, and that by doing simple exercises and looking after my diet, I could significantly improve my overall health. From that moment onwards, reaching remission was easier.

I started going to the gym, which I hated before, but fell in love with. I embraced a new life that valued health and fitness.

I always wanted to have the sort of body that can pull off bodybuilder photos that I could take showing my ostomy (to raise awareness) which I had received when I was 21. Unfortunately, at that time I had developed a shoulder injury which prevented me from exercising at the gym. It left me feeling restless and a thought came to my mind that, now, during COVID-19 and the lockdown, everyone was likely to put on weight. I felt like I needed to take action against that outcome, for me at least, and decided I was going to come out the other side of the pandemic as a leaner version of myself.

I began to track my eating habits, count my calories and make goals on how many calories I wanted to burn. My gym friend told me that if I can’t train, it’s fine, just go walking. My first response was, how can walking help and I wasn’t that motivated to try it. He just said that if I wanted to gain the body I wanted I should just go walking and that it’s very therapeutic. I eventually gave in and decided to give this walking thing a go even though it sounded boring to me.

The first day I walked down to the shops, which were about two minutes away. I was out of breath after because my cardio fitness just didn’t exist. The next day I walked to the park which was a few minutes further away than the shops and became out of breath again. I wasn’t that impressed with myself, so I thought if I slept better and drank more water I could go further. The day after that, I charged myself with walking 45 minutes to the main road but once I was there I realised I could see a friend’s house on the horizon. I told myself I might as well just walk all the way there and he could give me a lift home. It took about another hour to get there and I called him but he didn’t pick up and my heart sunk. All I could do was to make the decision to walk back, which I did slowly to conserve the little energy I had left.

When I got home I was pretty pleased with myself and began to think walking was alright. I felt like I had conquered that impulsive trek and found myself motivated to push myself more. I became addicted to it. Often, I was alone with my thoughts. I was able to reflect on myself and past events.

I was completing five-hour walks and after burning all those calories I felt I deserved a reward in the shape of a burger. Part of me wanted to prove that you can lose weight and still eat burgers (however, I wouldn’t recommend it).

When Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month was approaching this year, I felt like setting a crazy goal like the Bondi to Manly walk, which is about 80km or a two-day hike via the coast, but I wasn’t sure yet when I would do it. One day, after a long walk at Bondi beach, I arrived back home and received an unpleasant message that upset me. I suddenly couldn’t bear to be at home. Everyone was in lockdown but I needed to go for one of my walks.

It was about 7pm and I drove back to Bondi beach, I left my car there and headed up the Bondi road to Sydney. I told myself I’ll just walk to the Sydney Harbour Bridge then back. I walked and walked until my feet were sore but surprised myself with how easily I managed it. I spent some time in the city taking in the sites and then thought, why don’t I make my way north to Cremorne, go to McDonald’s and have an icecream and then I can return to my car at Bondi. When I reached my destination, I posted a photo on Instagram, had that ice-cream then started walking back. I arrived back at my car at 3am and drove home to bed. There ended my epic walk and now I’m looking for a new challenge.