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By November 2018, I had just had my fifth Crohn’s surgery. I was feeling achy, powerless, and utterly defeated. I was working as a waitress, where the constant walking made my surgery wounds chafe until they bled. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the sort of thing I felt comfortable talking to my boss about at the time. I was suffering in silence, and to be frank, I was depressed and directionless. I remember being on the train to work and seeing an ad on Facebook for a boxing and Muay Thai gym. I had never really thought of myself as an athletic person and prior to this, I had only briefly attempted burlesque and pole dancing the year before. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try something totally different and I was desperate to get out of my rut. I signed up for a trial class and started later that week.

It was nerve-wracking to show up to my first boxing class when I didn’t know how to wrap my hands; I hadn’t skipped since I was a kid and had no idea what the difference was between orthodox and southpaw.  Despite my nerves, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it.

Unsurprisingly, I had a lot of repressed anger and grief from battling Crohn’s and its complications. All of that emotion came out through my fists, making me feel powerful for the first time in my life. I learned how to kick my frustrations out on the pads and so many techniques to make me a strong and capable muay Thai practitioner. It got to the stage where I was training up to 8 times a week because I couldn’t get enough. That may have something to do with all the endorphins I got from training – they’re pretty great too! Crohn’s never left my side and some days it definitely won, but I still kept turning up. I changed gyms when I moved house at the start of this year, but I’ve managed to keep up my Muay Thai practice.

Muay Thai is such an excellent way of challenging myself. Over the last 3 years, I have collected every little victory to prove to myself that I am strong, resilient, and fit (it was a shock to me too). I trained hard so that I could run up 6km before an hour-long class; I learned to do push-ups, burpees, and crunches, and smashed cardio-intense sessions; I stepped up to do sparring in front of a crowd twice and I’ve gone to advanced classes and survived. Each time I achieved something I didn’t think I could, it switched something in my mind. Like dealing with a chronic illness, sports require a mental battle as much as a physical one (perhaps even more). Both take focus, practice, and sheer determination to keep pushing to get better, even when you’re in pain or full of doubt.

I absolutely credit Muay Thai with saving my life because it has given me the tools to cope with the ups and downs of Crohn’s. I’m not always going to have good sessions at the gym, just like I’m most likely going to have tough pain days. I can’t let myself get frustrated and give up, because having one bad day doesn’t mean I’m starting from square one again. Sometimes I have to strip it all back and remind myself what I’m capable of and how much I have already fought and won. I celebrate every class I make it to, no matter what happens during the session. Wrapping my hands and putting on gloves is the only form of meditation that has helped me. My breathing becomes controlled and focused. I can feel every muscle working and the blood singing in my veins. When I train, I’m gloriously alive.

One of my coaches always says that Muay Thai takes a huge amount of heart. While I completely agree, I know it also takes guts. I need both of those things in everything I do: to show up to the gym and push my body to its limits; to face my fears and try new things; to condition my body and mind to be able to live with chronic pain; to get up more times than I’m knocked down; to step into a ring or sparring class and give it everything I’ve got; and most importantly, to never give up and never stop believing I can achieve whatever goals I set. While there’s no denying that Crohn’s is an awful and tough thing to deal with, I won’t let it call the shots. Muay Thai has given me the skills and mindset to square up with this disease every single day and find a way to score. Even in the hardest times, I know I won’t ever feel powerless and defeated again. I’m a Girl With Guts and a girl who fights. I’m a warrior, both in and out of the gym and I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be. Whatever life throws at me next, I’ll be ready for it with raised fists and a kickass attitude.

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• About The Author
Alyssa is a writer, puzzle enthusiast and volunteering wizard from Perth, Western Australia. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2016 and ever since has wanted to raise awareness for IBD and help to create support networks for the warriors who live with it. She has a degree in Archaeology and Italian, spends her weekends doing boxing and muay thai, and lives with her fiance Nick.
Accepting Life’s Unexpected Detours Navigating School and Athletics with Crohn’s Disease

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