Kilos4Colitis 2017

Another successful fundraiser done! This year saw a grand total of $1600 raised for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. Even more astounding, it saw countless shirts being sold to countless people, some of whom have no connection to me. And I’m so grateful to the people that support me, for the first time or for the fourth time. My heart goes out to everyone that donated, shared my posts and took the time to hear what I was saying. The fundraiser performance at Fall Classic turned out quite well in retrospect, I finished 2nd place with a solid clean and jerk and tough lessons in the snatch. After the meet is where things got complicated…

Poetic in a way that I should fall into a major colitis relapse during the fundraiser this year. All the classic and severe symptoms of colitis that I had not seen in 3 years flared up. Among all the challenges of trying to live a life during a flare-up, I was concerned about the last couple weeks of the fundraiser, since I still had donation challenges to do but not a body that could be doing them. But then something special started developing. A friend from Alberta saw that I was in no shape to continue doing challenges, and perhaps knew that I was hard headed enough to keep trying. She offered to do her challenge herself. After posting the video on my social media outlets this set a trend and others starting stepping up to their challenges or asking if they could do one on my behalf. She had in a sense saved the fundraiser and perhaps even made it better. It’s hard for me to put my thanks into words to everyone that stepped up to do a challenge, because it runs so much deeper than that, for the first in a long time I did not feel alone during a relapse. Kilos4Colitis 2017 does not belong to me.

As for my experience with the flare-up, there were many lessons to take forward and things to think about. After 3 years of not having any severe flare-ups or symptoms I started to believe I had progressed past all of this. Managing the symptoms is not the hardest part this time around, accepting the fact that I’m not past severe flare-ups is, and that I may never be. It started to set in that this will be the rest of my life, and although there may be long streaks of good health again, that concern in the back of my mind of it all falling apart will never go away. But the major thing I want to take forward is being more honest about the disease. The way I have brushed off that having colitis as fine and the image that I carry it without a doubt is not fair to myself and even more so, not fair to others with colitis. The truth is, it is harder than I’ll ever admit and so much harder than any lie I’ve told. Both physically and mentally. I should also be more honest about the toll a flare-up takes on my body rather than hiding out until it passes. Listening to my stories is one thing, but seeing the transformation of my body from strong and healthy into frail and exhausted really drives home the severity of the disease.

In terms of lifting, I don’t know what happens next. I had a plan for the rest of the year but that will need to be adjusted. I will continue to take it day by day with no rush or pressure behind me. But my mind still struggles with whether the mental challenges of the rebuilding process are worth it. What exactly am I holding onto? But what I’m holding onto is a hobby that builds character, a place to make friends and share laughs, and a perfect platform to build awareness and hold a fundraiser. Weightlifting is not my livelihood, it never will be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful regardless of how bad or good I am at the time. However I can’t say this whole process isn’t a bitter pill to swallow, particularly after my lifting looked promising for the season. But I have been on this side of disappointment many times, in one form or another, so I will not shy away from it, I will assess it, and I will be back. Hopefully a new training cycle begins soon, and I’ve surrounded myself with good, honest, and constructive training partners. All the pieces are in place for a good rebuild that will be filled with emotional moments, as an expression of my frustration or conquering of colitis.

Advertisements

One Day at a Time

It’s been a while…

We all have ways of coping with challenges, or methods rather. Some work so well and are passed on, and others are so destructive the challenge wins in some type of way.

So many times I have been asked about how I deal with living with a chronic illness. Not specifically ulcerative colitis, but a disease that will never go away. For years I did not have a clear answer for this, and what I was trying to say got lost in articulation. But last week, I figured it out. I remember going to work and being very sick, I remember missing many classes with doctor’s appointments and working so hard to catch back up. I remember just being plain sick and in more pain than I had ever experienced. The challenging, painful, embarrassing moments are all things anyone with a chronic illness will experience, and I always told myself to just get through the day. If I wanted to stop, if I wanted to just call it quits and give up on work, school or control of my life, and go into submission, I could do it tomorrow. But unintentionally a cycle developed and I seemed to be telling myself that everyday. Because the thing is, it is so much easier to commit to a day of fighting instead of a life time. So give yourself a day, if that’s all you can do. And face the next one when it comes.

A couple times I’ve been lucky enough to discuss weightlifting with ulcerative colitis (which I absolutely love to do!).  The question I want to discuss and the one I’ve probably reflected on the most has been “do you think you enjoy lifting more than regular people because of your illness?”. I will never openly admit that it affects me in any sort of way in my training, but if you’ve seen me string together a rough couple weeks, something is up, even if it’s not a full blown flare up. Much like life, the gym also has to be taken day by day. I do not think it is a secret that I lift with a chip on my shoulder either. But getting back to the question, my impulsive reaction was yes. But when I really thought about the question; it’s not a matter of enjoying it more or less, I’m sure I enjoy it totally differently. How I experience the sport is different in the sense of what it means to me, which is different from what it means to others. I am very much in my own lane striving for something more personal. I enjoy weightlifting in my own way, with the ups and downs, which I think most people can understand but not relate to.

These days I live in relative comfort. I don’t have to plan or live my life one day at a time. But it’s presumptuous to think I live a normal life. I don’t give a damn about diet or restrictive life style etc. These things are the easy part. But a day has not gone by in the last five and a half years that I was not concerned with my health, where I didn’t wonder or monitor if everything was going to fall apart. The first thing I look for when I enter a new place is still the washroom. I over analyze any sort of change in how I’m feeling or in my wellness, and I wonder if I will get colon cancer in the next ten years like I’ve been told. These are not normal thoughts. So along with the occasional symptom popping up, I’m left to manage kind of the ‘aftermath’ of ulcerative colitis. The challenges extend beyond the physical symptoms of the disease and that’s all I’m trying to say here. I am not complaining, life does not owe me a healthy body and I have been so fortunate in many other ways. If all I find in life is anxiety and little joy, that is no one’s fault but my own. As I heard someone once say “the world owes you nothing, life is what you make it”

 

Kilos4Colitis 2016

Farewell Kilos4Colitis 2016! The fundraiser comes to a close with a massive $2150 being raised for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. I’m absolutely blown away by the support I had this year. Every year this seems to follow the same pattern. Things are slow to get kicked off, and then a few challenges start trickling in, then it starts to snowball into this amazing thing and by the time it’s done I don’t want it to be over. Even more outstanding was the number of people I was able to reach out to this year. From other people with colitis messaging me on social media to meeting other people with colitis that were into weightlifting as well, and to the countless people who wanted to learn about colitis. And to a large extent it is because of the other people wearing their kilos4colitis shirts or sharing my post on their own social media outlets. This was the most successful year, and I have everyone else to thank.

The fundraiser ended with the Hokkaido Cup this past weekend. I ended up doing fairly well making 5/6 lifts and placing second in a competitive class of 9 lifters.  I only missed my last clean and jerk, which usually is my more consistent lift. My initial feeling after missing was frustration but as I walked back to the chalk bowl I saw a reaction from my coach that I do not see often. He gave me a smile and a nod, and in some type of way acknowledged the work I had put in and that I showed up to compete that day. It was then I started to realize that we had strung together a good performance. Everything seemed to have just clicked, maybe it was the competition prep cycle doing its work or maybe it was getting to warm up with a bunch of my Power Plus teammates, but it all came together.

I had a ton of support from not only the other lifters from Power Plus in the crowd, but my friends from the university also showed up, some of whom I did not expect to see. I could not have asked for a better ending to the fundraiser. People probably do not realize how much it all means to me, and how much even a quick comment of encouragement can boost my excitement. And I remember all of them, along with who said it. No small amount of support goes unnoticed, not even close. A friend recently told me how it’s a shame that we never appreciate the ‘good ol’ days’ until they are gone, but I am certain I am living mine now.

When I am old I will be blessed with memories of today. I will remember training under Larry Mather. I will remember sharing laughs with my teammates at Power Plus. I will remember my friend Justin lining up a visit to overlap with Hokkaido. I will remember walking out to the platform and seeing blue shirts across the crowd. I will remember my friends telling me I was doing something greater than I knew. I will remember my parents’ support on the worst days of having a chronic illness. You have all created these memories for me, and you have cemented a legacy in my mind. And I have no idea how to thank you.

Fall Classic

Bit of a quick turn around, but my next meet is in the books. I did not really taper my training for it and had been doing triples and clean and jerk combos the week leading up, but I had to go heavy towards the end of the week anyway. I did it along side some close friends so I knew it would be good for a laugh if nothing else. And these days, I seem to chase stories and laughs more than anything.

I ended up with another 4/6 performance, except this time it was 3/3 in the snatch and 1/3 in the clean and jerk, missing both jerks. I took a decently sized jump from a 121 opening CJ to a 128 second attempt. I don’t really care about the size of a jump in the CJ, so that’s no fault, but I do think if I had focused a bit more on my second attempt I would have been able to get it. My third attempt I had the weight over my head with a solid lockout but it was just a bit too far forward on my right side and I was not under it enough. Quite a surprise going 3/3 on the snatch. The nerves from my first meet were definitely gone but on top of that my technique and bar path felt good. And it wasn’t as if I had taken conservative attempts to get a 3/3 outcome. I went 82/87/90 where my best snatch at my previous meet was 80. Now if I can put together my snatches from Fall Classic and my clean and jerks from Gordon Kay…

After the competition had come to a close someone in the crowd had noticed my friend wearing his kilos4colitis shirt. My friend pointed him over towards me and he came to ask me about it. I explained to him the format of the fundraiser and how it was an annual thing, etc. He thought it was the coolest thing, and I mentioned to him that I’ve had colitis for 5 years now and he revealed that he has also had it 5 years. His path has been a bit more challenging than mine, but I think brighter days are ahead for him.

We continued to talk a bit more and got connected on social media before he took off, but there was one thing he said I think I will remember for a while to come. He explained to me how there was no one else in the weightlifting community doing what I was doing, or at least promoting it to the level that I am. He said it gave him hope to be competing one day too, as his challenges with his health had held him back from consistent lifting. He may not know it, but he is mentally stronger than most people he saw on the platform that day. But, all of this is the fundamentals behind kilos4colitis. This is exactly why I started and continue the fundraiser every year. I’ve said this so many times in so many ways ” … if I can let one person with colitis know it was going to be okay, I have achieved something for greater” and it’s starting to take form.

Check out the fundraiser page if you haven’t yet!

Kilos4Colitis 2014

The following is a post I wrote for the University of Waterloo’s Wellness Blog the first year I ran Kilos4Colitis. I wanted to repost it here so I can have my own posting of it, along with providing some background for the fundraiser since this year’s is already well underway.

Hey friends! My name is Chris and I am in my last year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo. My undergraduate degree is coming to close and so over the past while I have been reflecting on everything that I have learned, in class and beyond. I remember when I started this journey I thought my greatest challenges would be academic, but I was wrong.

Over the course of the Spring 2011 term I started developing problems in my digestive tract, and my health was quickly deteriorating. It was not until the end of the term that I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. For those who are unfamiliar, ulcerative colitis is a disease that results in the inflammation of the colon. In short this means a lot of discomfort, a lot of pain, and a lot of running to the washroom. Colitis has a lot in common with Crohn’s disease since both affect the gastrointestinal tract and both have no known cause or cure.

The following year was a constant struggle and a learning experience of how to cope and accept the changes that had been placed on my life. By Spring 2012, I had realized I could control my colitis rather well with my diet. In an attempt to recover the weight I had lost, I joined the Warrior’s Strength and Conditioning Club. I thoroughly enjoyed the club’s weekly events and strong knowledge base, but most of all I loved the community. Since I had been forced to adopt a healthy lifestyle from colitis, my progress in the gym surpassed any level of strength I had previously. My success has led me to explore the strength and conditioning world further, and through the club I learned about Powerlifting as two other members at the time were actively competing.

A Powerlifting meet consists of an athlete preforming a squat, bench press, and deadlift for three attempts each. The athlete is scored based on their ‘total’ which is the addition of their best successful attempts at each lift. In July 2013, with encouragement of the club, I competed in my first Powerlifting meet. Ever since I have been hooked! But I have always had the painful reminder of my colitis. Whenever I have a bad training session my mind instantly looks to blame colitis, rightfully so as most of my bad training sessions coincide with my bad days of health. I also think about the all the foods I’ve cut out that I should be eating and the world of supplements that I dare not touch.  Will colitis stop me from being the best Powerlifter I could be? Yes, more than likely. But at the same time, I would never have started Powerlifting if I was not diagnosed with colitis. I would never have had a successful start into strength training and I would not have the mental fortitude to get under heavy bars. Training with colitis is a challenge, but it’s all the challenges that have made me strong.

I competed at the 2013 Provincial Championships where I received a silver medal and the 2014 National Championship all under the Canadian Powerlifting Union. As my preparations for the 2014 Provincial Championships got under way, I reflected on my journey and decided it was time for me to take an active role in the Crohn’s and colitis community. I started an awareness and fundraiser campaign for colitis. I have committed to donate 50 cents per kilogram of my total at Provincials to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, and I made an open invitation for others to donate. I coined the hashtag ‘#kilos4colitis’ and started blowing up my social media channels with information on colitis and training videos. The amount of support I’ve received is overwhelming and it means so much more to me than anyone knows. My initial goal was to raise $500 including my donation; beyond my expectations I raised $478 in 3 weeks. But this is about so much more than the money; it’s about sending a message. Be mindful of people with Crohn’s or colitis. 1/150 Canadians are suffering and dealing with complications of it all (I have not touched on how this affected my classes and work terms).  People with any sort of chronic illness feel more than pain and a little awareness can go a long way.

So what’s the readers’ take away from this? Do I expect people to care about my story with colitis? No. What I’m trying to say is this: we all have challenges and we can’t change that, all we can do is take away the lessons and find an outlet, whether it’s Powerlifting, photography or music. Where ever we can find peace.

Donations welcome here [updated for 2016]

#kilos4colitis

Much love,

Chris DiGiovanni

Gordon Kay Memorial

So starts my journey into Olympic weightlifting! Last weekend I lifted in my first weightlifting meet, although I only found out I was competing 10 days prior to the meet. I was on the waiting list and luckily a spot opened up. Unlike the 74kg weight class in powerlifting, I do not need to cut any weight for the 77kg class. So that was not an issue with the short notice. Overall, good experience. Eager to do it again.

The snatches did not go as well as I would have liked. I only completed 1 out of my 3 attempts. I was quite jittery for the snatches, I wont lie here. I was not intimidated by the crowd, and definitely not by the judges, but by my coach. His opinion bears much more weight than anyone else, and an opinion I truly care about. The clean and jerks went much better where I completed all my attempts, although we may have played it fairly conservative. It felt like one of those days where, if I could make the clean I was going to make the jerk. After it was all said and done I was happy I was able to meet my expectations in the clean and jerk but I was fairly disappointed with myself in the snatch. Only making 1 attempt really damaged my total and more importantly it was not to the level that I usually lift in the gym. It all comes with experience though.

After the meet and friend messaged me and asked how it compared to a powerlifting meet. Now this is a good question and I kinda reflected on it for the rest of the day. My first reaction is that a weightlifting meet is a lot less strenuous. There’s probably two reasons for this, the first being that powerlifting is based much more on limit strength, and the second that it is 3 lifts as opposed to 2. The other thought I had was in a weightlifting meet it is much easier to miss attempts. Very rarely in powerlifting do you see someone miss an opening attempt. And because of the difference in the lifts, powerlifting also allows for bigger jumps between attempts which makes it easier to open light. In powerlifting the judges play a larger role too, I think. I was always conscious of the judges on squat and bench press but neither the snatch or the clean and jerk was I concerned with what the judges were seeing. This is obviously due to the nature of the lifts in powerlifting and how they have to be standardized, but it did make weightlifting seem a lot more “free flowing”.

After 11 months of no meets or competitions it was good to get back on the platform. I’ve always found that meets give structure to training blocks and add more intent to each training session. I’ve got my next meet picked out which will also be my fundraiser meet this year. Kilos4Colitis 2016 will kick off this Tuesday, October 11th! I’m excited to see how far we can take it this year,

 

Reap What You Sow

Someone told me once that people tend to chase distractions rather than solutions. I started paying attention to it and I’d take it a step further to say that we vigorously chase distractions instead of solutions. There’s really no good reasoning behind it, so it’s a rather irrational choice once you notice it.

I think the barbell is a harsh teacher of choices and consequence. There is the obvious case of loading too much weight for a squat max out and getting stapled. Take that a step further, and have it be your third attempt at a meet and lose by a couple kg because ‘building a total’ was overlooked.  But my initial thought drifted more towards (and maybe more significantly) training. In powerlifting I had a rule of no misses on competition lifts in the gym. The point is, there’s a difference between building strength and testing strength. And testing strength goes beyond 1RMs I feel; grinding out every rep on a set of 5 doesn’t do any good except maybe teach willpower/mentality. Whenever I came to a plateau on my lifts I always went back to my training log and looked at the notes and programming. What choices did I make? Was I training stupid too often? Another aspect that may be often over looked is nutrition and recovery. Both of those are usually within one’s control, it just takes a certain amount of discipline to make good decisions (unless you are like me and adore sleeping). Anyway I’m not really qualified to be dishing out advice on any of this; I’m not a coach. Just some thoughts…

Contrary to what people may think I’ve found the most difficult choices surrounding colitis are about relationships. Friends, romantic, family, all of them. I’m never really sure how involved people want to be or should be in terms of my feelings of living with a chronic illness, along with care taking during a flare. I don’t think it’s any secret the last 2 or so years I’ve slowly excluded people from the personal side of my struggle, to a point where I am very much alone. I thought I was making the right choice, I was protecting myself. People seem to jump ship when they realize what they’ve got themselves into (perhaps rightfully so). How could I be disappointed if there was nothing to be disappointed about? Family will not be around forever, so even with them I tried to limit interaction, I reasoned I was just learning to go at it alone. And frankly I was good at carrying it all on my shoulders, I don’t give a damn what anyone says. But this isn’t completely right. Dependency is never a good thing, there is no dispute about that. But if someone is willing to lend themselves to be present during a flare or an ear to talk things out, why not let them? Just accept that at some point that they may not be willing or there anymore, and one is alone again. I think the last couple months I’ve learned the support of having someone who wants to help vastly outweighs embracing the void they may leave. Based off this, I should have more confidence in myself to do that.

I had an appointment with my gastroenterologist this morning, which was very frustrating. In all honesty, it left me with a feeling of hopelessness I have not felt in years. As I walked home I was getting myself to calm down, but when I got home I thought about what I wrote for this post last night, and what choice I was going to make here. Deal with my thoughts alone, like I have been or share them? So, I talked to my mom. Maybe I’ve been talking to myself for too long.

5 Years

I’ve always found it strange how some memories can seem so vivid, and more recent events can seem like a life time ago. It must be how I experience them. It was five years ago about now that the symptoms of colitis started. The summer is always a reminder of that, but last week or so I realized the milestone year. It’s kind of amazing how many things have happened since then, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

Most folks know the story of how I was diagnosed with colitis. If you don’t, you can piece it together from older posts. But I want to take this post to reflect on the thoughts, pride, and lessons the past five years has left me with. As a disclaimer, this will be more like a journal entry than anything informative.

I remember when I was diagnosed I thought to myself it would probably be ten years before I become competent at living with the disease. But at five years down the line I have to give myself credit. I completed my undergraduate degree on time (a large portion of students with Crohn’s or colitis do not) and I’ve moved across Canada, and proven to myself I can do this independently and alone. Maybe we can throw my powerlifting accomplishments in there as well. It may not be the ten year competency I envisioned but I’d say I’m well on my way.

Looking back, it has been quite a ride. Five years down the line I’ve collected many memories already. Some of proud moments, some of good times, and some of sad times. And the thing that bothers me more than any sad memory is the lack of people I have left to share them with. The people who were part of my life during beginning are slowly leaving my life, until one day it is just me, left carrying those memories for the rest of my life with no one who truly understands them. That saddens me more than anything else these days. But it’s just another aspect to cope with and I know I will.

But all that makes me look at how I’ve dealt with disease. Strict diet this, and healthy lifestyle that, is something other people will say. But those things are the result of my reaction to being diagnosed with colitis. From the beginning I knew this was a Christopher problem, and mine alone. Many people can help in many ways, but there is certain aspects I needed to learn to cope with confidently and independently. And all of this was evident when I was learning what life was like with the disease, in my first year or so. I never had any crutches. I never did any weird drugs to escape, I never blew off steam with a bottle, and I never leaned on a girlfriend (or anyone really) for emotional support or confidence. I did this the right way.

Perhaps in ten years I’ll be writing a post about how I knew nothing at five years. But nonetheless I’ll continue to live my own way, taking it one day at a time. And that’s the thing. It never mattered how sick I got, the sun always came up the next day. Nothing could stop that. And when I realized that, I saw the beauty in it. Life moves along, if you let it.

What’s in My Gym Bag

Take the snatch or the jerk, where you can’t see the bar and it’s taken you practice to even get to that point. That’s a different type of individual. 

As I like to say, I keep my ego, I keep my high confidence in my gym bag. It’s not something I want to settle a parking ticket with. But when I’m in the gym, the shoes come on and the gym bag opens up, a lot of that aggression is inward, that confidence is inward. 

You can display it loud if you want to, that’s fine if it works for you. But you should be able to see it in the eyes. When you see that lifter lifting, that aggression, that belief in himself or herself. You see it.

When that gym bag opens up, of course that confidence starts to shine through. You try to, when you go up to those heavy weights, you try to find that confidence within you, you try to bring that ego out of you. And for at least a moment, lift that weight like you are the baddest son of a bitch walking the planet.

-Donny Shankle

Healthy Perspective

I had a few bumps in the road towards the end of last week. First my fridge broke on me, then shortly after my laptop stopped cooperating until it broke too. I will admit, having everything in my freezer thawing and my fridge reaching room temperature was fairly stressful. For those 24 hours it seemed like life was needlessly complicated right now, on top of trying to organize some critical experiments for school and dealing with their not so desirable results. Luckily the fridge was dealt with very quickly, only to have my laptop give me trouble literally the same day. At this point it’s broken beyond repair. But, that’s life sometimes.

I really can’t be frustrated or stressed about it all. At some point during the weekend I realized that, and said to myself, “Well, I still got my health”. The pressure of running experiments and the anxiety of not knowing what I’ll be doing the next month are things I deal with in research. The latter I feel more heavily than the former. But it feels the same as my fridge and laptop breaking on me “Well, I got my health”. I can’t stress this enough, but when my health is in order it just seems like there’s so much to appreciate. Being able to sleep through the night without waking up every hour. Being able to leave the house when I want, and having the opportunity to deal with all these things instead of being bed ridden. Anyone with a chronic illness will be able to relate to what I’m trying to describe.

I don’t think I have this great view on life or anything. And I hope it doesn’t come off as some sort of high horse statement. I do think I have a sense of how good things are, and how quickly everything can change for me. And I’d like to think my challenges (colitis or other) have given me a refined sense of modesty. I know what it feels like to be weak and frail, I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and see a sunken in face and cheek bones jutting out. So when people are complimenting my current strength or looks, I try to carry that modesty.

I try to find the good in having colitis as often as I can. It changed my life, there is no doubt about that. I guess it’s up to me to determine in what way. I do say from to time to time that I am happy with the way things turned out, but I can tell no one really believes me, and pities me as if I’ve missed out on something so great. Maybe they’re right, and maybe somewhere deep down I don’t know if I believe that when I’m saying it. But the good is there. Just ask anyone who knew me before and after.