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#CouldItBeCeliac

An Olympian left undiagnosed with celiac disease for years.

#CouldItBeCeliac

Christine Nesbitt

As an eight-time world champion, and Olympic gold and silver medalist, my athletic journey was supported by some of Canada’s best medical and nutrition experts. Despite this expertise, a diagnosis for Celiac Disease was not easy. I went undiagnosed for years, suffering unexplained symptoms just like many undiagnosed Canadians.

Since I was young, I suffered from digestive problems. These symptoms continued into my teen years. When I was well into my speed skating career, my symptoms continued but the team doctor chalked my issues up to stress and anxiety. It simply became ‘my normal’.

— Christine Nesbitt

My Diagnosis

But when I was about 27 years old, my symptoms had become progressively worse. I realized this was no longer ‘normal’. As an athlete, I had always struggled with low iron, extreme fatigue, but my other teammates on the same regime were not experiencing it.

The tipping point for me was my daily, extreme bloating. In the morning, I would wake up feeling and looking like myself, but by the day’s end, I was extremely uncomfortable in my own skin, with my stomach engorged from terrible bloating.

After a number of tests, including an allergy test, my coach pushed for me to get a blood test for Celiac Disease. The team doctor did tests and reassured me that, ‘No it won’t be Celiac Disease. It’s okay.’ But soon after I got a panicked phone call from him saying, ‘Stop eating gluten!’ A follow-up biopsy confirmed it was indeed Celiac Disease.  

– Christine Nesbitt

Olympic Goal

To reach my Olympic goal for the Sochi games in Russia, I wanted to heal as quickly as possible. I ate many meals on my own, away from my teammates and friends, to avoid anything that would cross contaminate my food. I often felt isolated from my team, but my coach was always there for me. It helped immensely to have her by my side. I am grateful that she supported my overall health as a person, and not just as an athlete. I have to say it was a bit of a relief to know what was wrong with my health. I could now focus on my goals. 

For people with Celiac Disease, CCA is our coach every step of the way. Leading research and keeping abreast of the latest knowledge. Advocating with governments to protect our food. Teaching us how to navigate our long-term health. Raising awareness to help others get a timely diagnosis. Our patient community is our team, supporting each other to reach our best selves and I am proud to be part of it.

Still years after diagnosis, I continue to experience some issues related to Celiac Disease. I have been grateful that CCA has dietetic expertise on staff who can help me navigate these challenges. Their labelling guides, webinars, tips sheets and newsletters have all helped me manage my daily life and the assurance that I am not alone. 

Not only health advice, education and resources, for nearly 50 years the CCA and its volunteers have been working to build a better future for all of us. But they can’t do it alone.

Will you join me in supporting the CCA? – Christine Nesbitt

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