Competing as an ostomate with inflamatory bowel disease

02 January 2024
Matt Marsh Photography

Vicky Buckley writes about her inspiring fitness and competing journey, which led her to take part in the Pure Elite Amateur show this year

Earlier this year, I competed in the Pure Elite Amateur show, which is a bikini, fitness and muscle competition for both men and women over the age of 17. The results came in at the end of the day and I claimed second in Bikini Model Masters over 45 and third in Fitness Model Masters over 45. Both were a complete shock to me; I had not entered the competition with any notion of gaining a place. I was extremely nervous about going on stage in a bikini with a stoma and I’m not the sort of person who relishes being the centre of attention, never mind having hundreds of people in the audience watching me!

I’m Vicky Buckley, 49 years old, I have two grown-up daughters and three wonderful grandchildren. I have ulcerative colitis which I was diagnosed with in July 2010. Although inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be a very taboo condition for people to talk about, I have never struggled with that side of things. After being diagnosed, I joined Crohn’s & Colitis UK as a member, then in 2017, I became the Lead Volunteer Co-Ordinator for the Crohn’s & Colitis UK South Yorkshire Network. I find my volunteer work so rewarding, having an opportunity to help others with IBD, raising awareness and fundraising for the charity. Part of my role is to organise events such as coffee mornings, fundraisers and an annual educational day.

Once COVID-19 hit and we were in lockdown, we had to change how we supported people with IBD. We were unable to do face-to-face meetings and events, so I got involved with the charity’s virtual social meetings as either a host or co-host. This enabled the charity and me to be able to support members through this difficult time. These meetings have been such a success we are continuing them for over 2 years. An opportunity at the charity came along in September 2021 to take on the role of Research Champion, helping researchers, engaging with people with lived experience of IBD and being a voice for new research. This has led me to be involved as a patient representative on the Patient Oversight Committee for AWARE-IBD, a study to improve patient care for IBD patients in South Yorkshire. I am now involved with several other research projects relating to IBD. I really want to make a difference for those with IBD as there is currently no cure; this condition can be so debilitating and very misunderstood as it is an invisible disease.

Fitness model masters over 45+ category

I have had a love for fitness for many years, having studied for a degree in sport, fitness and coaching and I am a personal trainer, which has enabled me to get a part-time as a coach at a gym. I had a strong desire to show others that having a stoma is not the end of the world and that you are able to do anything that you can put your mind to, regardless of being different to others. After having had elective surgery for a colostomy in June 2020 due to a bowel incontinence issue, at first, I didn’t focus too much on my stoma being visible to others as we were in lockdown. However, this changed when I decided to go to Crete in September 2022 and knew I would want to wear a bikini rather than a swimsuit. Not feeling brave enough to wear a bikini with skimpy bottoms I invested in larger ones that were big enough to cover my stoma bag. Once I got by the pool, I realised that no one was staring at me or even knew I had a stoma. I soon relaxed and felt a little more confident in my bikini. My next step towards getting up on stage was to do a lingerie photoshoot, to increase my confidence to be photographed in underwear. This was a turning point for me as it allowed me to feel beautiful and confident in front of the camera.

December 2022 arrived and I got in touch with fitness coach Josh-Blue Majury, to discuss the idea of me competing. He reassured me that having a stoma would not hold me back and that being on stage would be a fantastic way to improve my body confidence if I was willing to put in the work, as it requires not only physical but mental ability. Christmas was over and I started to think about 2023 and what I wanted to achieve, so I signed up with Josh-Blue and made the commitment to compete.
My close friend, Natalie Hartley, has been involved in competing at an amateur level but also as a professional. She tried to encourage me to compete many times previously but due to having spinal surgery to replace my C6 and C7, stoma surgery and finally a proctectomy in December 2021 due to my ulcerative colitis, it was never the right time to commit to the training and preparation required. After 6 months, I was finally given the news that my ulcerative colitis was in remission and at this point, I thought that competing may be a possibility. I approached Zoey Wright, a two-time Pure Elite Overall World Champion Fitness model via Instagram for her advice , as she competed in 2017 with a stoma. She told me that it didn’t matter that I had an ostomy, it was what I could bring to the stage that mattered, that I should take every opportunity in life which arises and do it to the best of my ability.

A ‘power pose’ for the judges

After hours and months of training, sticking to a calculated nutrition plan to get my body in the required shape to step on stage, show day arrived. Being backstage was electric, with lots of ladies buzzing around getting ready looking very glamorous and tanned. At first, I did feel a little uneasy walking about in my little bikini with my stoma but soon realised that people hadn’t noticed it, this was due to Cookie Stagewear who handmade my bikini, she had also made a matching cover for my stoma. It was only after a little while of talking to others that they noticed my stoma. This sparked a whole conversation about IBD, my back story of having ulcerative colitis and why I wanted to compete. Everyone was so supportive and said how brave I was to be getting up on stage, but I didn’t see it like that; we were all going on stage to do the same thing, we had all worked so hard to get there. Many other ladies had their own inspirational stories and adversities as to why they were competing. It was such an incredible day; one of the best of my life.

I was also approached by one of the founders of Pure Elite, who praised me for getting up on stage with an ostomy and that it would make a difference to the ostomy community. If not only doing so well in my first competition wasn’t enough, the day after, I was contacted by fitness model/coach Zoey Wright. She left me a wonderful voice message on what I had achieved and the impact it would have made for others with an ostomy. The response from friends and family about me getting on stage has been fantastic; this has now raised more awareness about stomas and IBD. By deciding to get on stage I feel I have achieved so much more than I ever intended and that I can go on to keep raising awareness.

Competing has completely changed my view of my body, I now have a new love for it and its capabilities. I can officially say I have the bug for competing and fully intend to compete again in the future. Thank you for reading my story and I hope that it has given you some inspiration to achieve your own goals.

Vicky Buckley, aged 49, lives in Sheffield. She has two daughters and three grandchildren
Instagram: @vickysbodyplan_pe_athlete