Today is the last day of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week and, as I look back over all the stories that have been shared over the past seven days, I am in awe of how strong the Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients in my life are. Each story is unique but what they all have in common is that they refuse to let their disease run their life, no matter how difficult living with the diseases can be.
On the last day of this important awareness week, #ThisIsIBD story comes from Craig. Craig’s story is pretty incredible- diagnosed with both Crohn’s disease and Celiac Disease and overcame odds to become a professional arena football kicker and a two-time Guinness World Record holder.
Make sure to check out his full story after the jump!
Craig, 36, Crohn’s disease
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 12 years old, which caused my height and weight to be way below average and prevented me from flourishing. Prior to my diagnosis, I was experiencing constant stomach pains, persistent visits to the bathroom, and discomfort no matter what I ate. Despite being diagnosed with a debilitating digestive disease, I was determined to reach my goals of becoming a college football and ice hockey player.
After my second year in college, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine, which was crushing to me at the time. I immediately withdrew from classes and left sports altogether, leaving my dreams behind after this second diagnosis.
After years of trying to cope with these diseases, which seemed to constantly be flaring and causing bathroom issues, I decided it was time to pick myself up again and complete what I had started years earlier. At the age of 30, I re-enrolled in school to finish my bachelor’s degree. I also simultaneously set off on a workout regiment to give myself a shot at playing football again, this time on the professional level, which was something I dreamed of, but never thought possible because of what I had been through. The two diseases impacted me both physically and mentally, with chronic pains, bathroom issues, and anxiety about eating in public, which started to take up more of my thought process before I went out with friends.
In 2009, I attended an open tryout for a local professional football team, an arena football team in New Jersey. On the way to the tryout, every thought I had told me to turn around and go home, that I was away from playing for too long, that I didn’t have the physical build anymore to be a pro athlete. After a long day of trying out, I was offered a spot as a kicker on the team that same day. My hard work did not stop there; I worked my way to being named a captain of the team as a rookie. I worked even harder that off-season, and made my second season in 2010 one to remember by being named team captain again, and finishing at the top of the league in most statistical kicking categories.
That same year, I teamed up with Guinness World Records to attempt to kick footballs for 12 straight hours to raise money for Celiac Disease research. My hard work paid off as at the end of the day, I emerged with a world record, making 717 forty-yard field goals for the day.
I looked to outdo my previous record and continue to break the stigma that people with Crohn’s disease or Celiac Disease cannot excel in sports the following year. I decided to try for a second Guinness World Record, this time for number of field goals kicked in 24 hours. At the end of the day, taking no breaks, I made 1,000 field goals in 24 hours, setting my second world record.
Shortly thereafter, I founded my own non-profit organization to raise awareness and educate the public about Celiac Disease, the Kicking 4 Celiac Foundation (now known as the National Celiac Disease Society). In just three years of operation, NCDS has developed multiple programs that have expanded across the country.
I was honored in 2013 to be inducted into the American Football News Hall of Fame for my achievements through football and service to the community. I was also selected by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition to receive their Community Leadership award.
To me, having Crohn’s disease and Celiac Disease is something I know I will live with for the rest of my life. However, it does not mean it is something that will take my life away from me. I plan to continue working to accomplish all of my goals, physical and not.
Entry filed under: Advocates, CCFA Awareness Week, General Disease, Interviews. Tags: CCFA, CCFA Awareness Week, celiac, Celiac Disease, crohn's, Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, crohn's disease, Crohn's Sucks, ibd, IBD Awareness Week, inflammatory bowel disease, uc, ulcerative colitis.