Sport with a stoma (part 3): from colitis to camogie
Friday, September 17, 2021
Aneica Duffy explains what it takes to play a highly physical endurance contact sport with an ileostomy
Camogie is a very physical endurance contact sport, played in Ireland under the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). It is similar to hockey, but players wear a helmet and use a hurl instead of a hockey stick. Two teams of 15 players compete over two 30-minute halves.
A goal for recovery
I have been involved in camogie from an early age, having played through my school and local club. However, at the age of 16, my health began to deteriorate. I experienced fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and rectal bleeding. After a lot of blood tests and colonoscopies, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
I tried different medications, such as 5-ASA, steroids, azathioprine, mercaptopurine and infliximab, for 3 years without success. Therefore, in 2014, I had a proctectomy at the age of 19. I didn’t know anyone of a similarly young age who had a stoma, so I visited an older lady for advice. The first question I asked was whether I would be able to play camogie, and I was relieved when she replied that I would. That then became my main goal for recovery.
Getting back up
After my 12-week surgical review, I wanted to return to camogie. I spoke with my stoma nurses, who advised me to take it slowly and to wear support wear, such as underwear and a stoma support belt, and for camogie I had to wear a cap (which is like a small hard hat). It gives me comfort to know that my stoma is protected when playing camogie. I also knew that I had to build up my core following the surgery to help prevent a parastomal hernia. I went to a personal trainer, who was really helpful and worked on my core, as well as my cardio and strength training.
Aneica plays camogie, a stick-and-ball team sport played by women in Ireland
Fed, watered and fixed up
At the beginning, training was different, and it took time to adjust. The high output of my ileostomy means that I can dehydrate quite quickly, so I usually consume an isotonic drink throughout training and matches.
Having a stoma makes me aware of what I eat; when playing sport, I want to avoid an over-active stoma when out on the field. On match or training days, I try to eat well throughout the day. I eat slow-digesting carbohydrates and protein, and I try not to eat anything too heavy in the 2 hours before training. However, I always have a banana an hour before, as bananas thicken my output, slow everything down and give me a boost of energy.
In the past 7 years, I have had a few leaks when training. I’ve learned to remain calm, get myself sorted and go back out to the pitch again. I keep a separate bag with my kit for extra stoma supplies just in case I need them. It was, and still is, a matter of trial and error.
Get with the programme
As someone who has had abdominal surgery, wants to play a demanding sport like camogie and is aiming for a career in nursing, it is very important to work on my core fitness. To help with this, I am following the ME+ programme, organised by fellow ostomate Sarah Russell. In 2014, Sarah Russell became the first person with an ileostomy to run the Himalayan 100, a 5-day, 100-mile stage race at altitude in the Indian Himalayas.
The programme has three phases, and it really emphasises connecting with your inner core and hernia prevention. It involves gentle exercises that engage the core, more so than I would have initially thought. I would recommend this programme. It allows new ostomates to do gentle exercises from day 3 or 4 after surgery and progress from there.
I have had three further operations since my first surgery. The first two were in 2016 and 2017, and my latest was in April 2021. I have had my stoma refashioned twice, as well as three laparotomies, two small bowel resections and a complete proctectomy. I now have a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease rather than ulcerative colitis.
Through all this, returning to camogie has helped me forget about everything I have been through. Now I just focus on what is happening on the pitch.
Aneica Duffy is a final year nursing student and camogie player