IBD Olympic Champions


IBD Olympic Champions

It was a great week in the IBD community. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patients erupted with pride as two swimmers (both IBD Olympic Champions) competing in the Olympics in Rio this week won silver medals. I have written several pieces about success stories and IBD. I know that not all of us are healthy enough to achieve silver medals in the Olympics, much less roll over in bed. But I believe stories like these are important because they raise awareness. So, please allow me to introduce these two lovely ladies.


Kathleen Baker

First, I want you to meet 19-year-old American girl, Kathleen Baker. She was diagnosed at 13 with Crohn’s disease in the middle of her swimming career.

While Kathleen has come a long way in her battle, life hasn’t always been about swimming and fame. Like many newly diagnosed patients, Kathleen didn’t understand what life was going to be like living with Crohn’s. During her journey with chronic illness, Kathleen experienced extreme weight fluctuations. Because her immune system was compromised, she developed whooping cough… a case so severe that she broke several ribs from violent coughing fits.

“Her illness just took away from the pure joy of her success,” says her father, Norris Baker.

When asked about her struggle with Crohn’s, Baker says, “I think it really helps me appreciate [swimming] even more, knowing that it can be taken away from me.”

Kathleen was put on about a dozen pills day for Crohn’s in the beginning, when that failed, she was put on intravenous TNF blockers. When that failed, she was put on biweekly injections (which is probably Humira). Right now, Kathleen is in a good spot.

“I’ve definitely had my fair share of adversity,” Baker says. But, she also says, “I hope I inspired a lot of people. I prayed about this a lot. I think this is something I’ve been put here to do. I’ve never given up on my dreams, and I hope other people are the same.”

On Monday night, Kathleen won the silver medal in the 100m backstroke, coming in at 58.75 seconds just behind Katinka Housszu from Hungary.

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor

Next, I’d like you to meet English competitive swimmer, 20-year-old Siobhan-Marie O’Connor. She was diagnosed in 2012 with ulcerative colitis at 16.

“I was worried when I first had these problems as I felt ill but didn’t know why,” O’Connor says. Like many who have IBD, she would get run down and exhausted from the battle that your body endures every day. Naturally, when she finally got her diagnoses, she had a sense of relief.

“I don’t want to feel sorry for myself,” O’Connor says, “because if it’s not illness, it might be injury.”

She understands that life is full of risks. And when you’re doing something athletic, injury and illness are all a part of the game. “It’s absolutely not ideal and I went through a pretty rough time of it before I got it diagnosed,” O’Connor says.

In the early days of her diagnosis, O’Connor lost about 10kg (or 22 lbs). “I look back and I don’t know how I swam when I was so ill.”

Siobhan-Marie won the silver medal in the 200m individual medley in 2:08.44 minutes. Second only to Katinka Housszu from Hungary.

The Importance of Awareness

While I realize that not everyone living with IBD is able to be physically active. Our diseases are draining physically, emotionally and mentally. These two ladies inspire us to not only seek after our dreams, but to keep fighting. Keep pushing past the pain.

We have two great examples of people who inspire others who live with these wretched diseases and seek to raise awareness with their stories of struggle and triumph. Again, we all have stories to tell… Not all of us can say we have “success” stories such as these, but if you ask me… everyone’s story is worth telling. The more stories we have out there, the better our chances of raising awareness and by doing that, we are one step closer to finding a cure.


Fowler, Scott. “Charlotte’s Kathleen Baker Inspires with Silver in 100 Backstroke.” Charlotteobserver. The Charlotte Observer, 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2016. <http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/olympics/article94503017.html>.

Formica, Brian. “Overcoming Kathleen Baker’s Biggest Obstacle.” WXII12. WXII12, 27 July 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2016. <http://www.wxii12.com/sports/2016-olympics/overcoming-kathleen-bakers-biggest-obstacle/40918644>.

Schofield, Daniel. “Siobhan-Marie O’Connor on the Whirlwind of London 2012, Battling Ulcerative Colitis and Her Rio Hopes.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 8 Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/olympics/2016/08/08/siobhan-marie-oconnor-on-the-whirlwind-of-london-2012-battling-u/>.