Olympian Alyx Treasure Jumps Over Crohn’s Disease
Education and Advocacy The 24-year-old Prince George, B.C. native, overcame a Crohn's disease diagnosis to reach new heights and perform at an inspirational level.
Mediaplanet: How did you get started in track and field? What motivated you to focus on high jump?
Alyx Treasure: I started in track at a young age — around seven years old. My parents signed me up for every sport and my mom claims it was to wear me out because I was a bit of a rambunctious kid. I was naturally talented at track and excelled at most of the events, except high jump. Funny enough, my hate of losing is what made me focus on it. I started to dedicate more of my time to high jump and began to love the event. From then on my heart and focus has been on high jump.
MP: How old were you when you were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease?
AT: I was 17 but it took my health care team awhile to figure out exactly what was wrong.
MP: What sentiments did competing at your first Olympics leave you with?
AT: The biggest thing I took away from the Games was a new outlook on my career and the impact I can have on others. Being on such a large stage and having so many people behind you, an entire nation, inspired me to become more focused on what I do with that platform. It seems silly to have that privilege and not do something good with it.
MP: What challenges did you have to overcome on the way to qualifying for Rio 2016 — Crohn’s or otherwise?
AT: The mental side was my largest obstacle in qualifying for Rio. Once I reached remission, my training and strength were never better. With the physical side coming together, it came down to believing in myself. I struggled for so long with my health that I lost a lot of confidence in myself. Not living up to your potential is one of the hardest things to deal with. After years of struggling, it took a toll on me mentally. On top of that, high jump is one of the most mentally challenging events. You literally must convince yourself you can throw your body over a bar that looks impossibly high. Confidence is key. If you don’t believe it — it ain’t happening.
MP: What impact did Crohn’s disease have on you as an athlete and in your day-to-day life?
AT: As an athlete, it complicated every aspect of my training and life. Being an athlete is about working smarter not harder, but in my case I needed to give even more effort just to get through. Simple practices would be hard for me because I didn’t have the energy levels others did, and I was never able to fully recover. I was always fighting to catch up, but falling further behind.
Living with Crohn’s also had me constantly thinking about how, what, and when I’m eating. Eating well is crucial to being an athlete. But when your triggers are vegetables and fibre, it becomes hard because the right foods for athletes are the wrong foods for me.
I was treated with a biologic for my entire collegiate career and it allowed me to live a mostly normal life, but the consequences to my training were drastic. I had to go into a hospital and get the medication infused by IV therapy every two months for five hours at a time. This process would lay me out for a couple of days. Having to take time off from training repeatedly had huge effects on my performance. No matter how hard I worked I’d always be put behind a couple weeks when it was time for my medications.
I’m on a new treatment now and it has changed my life as an athlete completely. Remission is the goal for everyone with Crohn’s disease. And once you find it you don’t want to give it up. I give myself the shot every two weeks and I no longer have any down time in between doses. No longer being forced to take time off from my training, I’ve seen huge improvements. Last year is proof of how my performance has changed. I increased my personal record (PR) by 5cm, made my first Olympics, and jumped a PR in the Olympic qualifier to make the final. If you asked me a year ago if that was possible I would have had a hard time saying yes. It’s hard to believe in yourself when your body keeps betraying you and shutting down.
MP: What has been your physical and mental approach to managing Crohn’s disease?
AT: One day at a time. When I let myself get swallowed up in the big picture, things seem impossible. When I was first diagnosed, I struggled severely with the mental side of being told I had a disease. I’m stubborn and I was used to being able to accomplish what I set my mind to. If I believed I wasn’t sick, then I wasn’t sick — the mind of a foolish teenager. A year later, I was in the hospital unable to walk by myself. Now I realize just how crucial the mental side of your game is as an athlete, so is your approach to your health. It all came down to a science to me, always listening to my body and adjusting accordingly. Eventually you start to be able to read your body. I can tell when my body is going to start acting up in advance so I can take steps to correct it before I get hit with the symptoms full force.
MP: What inspired you to become a spokesperson for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada?
AT: It has always been something I hoped to do, but I never spoke up and shared my struggles until recently. I didn’t want to paint my failures in track in that light. I never wanted people to think I used Crohn’s as an excuse because we all have struggles.
Once I accomplished the goals I set for myself — becoming an Olympian — I felt it was the time to speak up. I share my story so hopefully I can inspire even just one person to not give up on their dreams. Crohn’s didn’t stop me and it doesn’t have to stop you. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is an amazing organization who do so much good for the community. I was incredibly honoured when they took interest in working with me and gave me a platform to tell my story.
MP: What advice do you have for patients with Crohn’s disease, who are concerned about how their social lives and ambitions may be affected?
AT: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy for Crohn’s disease. Everyone has their own triggers and will have to find out what works for them. It’s important to be open and willing to discuss the reality of your situation. It’s shitty, literally, but it doesn’t define you. You are still the same person, with the same dreams and ambitions. With Crohn’s it’s just a little bit harder, but all good things come from struggle. I honestly believe that and I have an appreciation for my disease, my struggles. Crohn’s disease has taught me so much and it has pushed me further then I may have gone without it. The older I’ve become, the better I have done dealing with my disease — it all started from accepting my situation.