Dreaming Big, But Staying Grounded

For a while, Joel Nixon let his IBD diagnosis define him. Then he decided he was born for bigger things.

by Lauren Paige Kennedy Senior Editor

Joel Nixon, now 30, was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as a teenager. Despite the chronic pain it caused him, he often skipped his medications in those days. “I didn’t take it that seriously at the time,” he says. But when a 2016 flare led to surgery—as well as an ileostomy bag strapped to his abdomen to collect waste from his body—he was left with a permanent and very visible reminder of his illness. One that made him believe he would never feel good or free again.

Post-op, he struggled physically and emotionally. The recent Florida transplant recalls losing a lot of weight as he recovered in his hometown of New Jersey. “My entire body changed,” he says—he was thin, weak, and tired. For months he didn’t have the energy, or the motivation, to move much, or even regard himself with kindness in the mirror. “I hated my ileostomy,” he admits. “I hated looking at it. I hated changing it. I was in a deep depression.”

His family and girlfriend, worried about his continual low mood, rallied. “They said to me, ‘You have to get up. You have to get out.’” So, one morning he took a walk around the neighborhood—the most effort he could muster at the time. “It was back when Pokémon Go was a thing,” he recalls. “I just started looking for Pokémon, catching them on my phone for about an hour. I felt a lot better after that walk. Then, an hour turned into two. I started jogging a half-mile. Then a mile. Then more. Every day, I just tried to better myself.”

Flash-forward to 2021 and Nixon’s Instagram account (@chronically.fit) documents his current daily moves as a personal fitness trainer, hardcore lifter who can bench with the best of them, and online source of inspiration to all who know and follow him. Some days it’s pure legwork (sprinting on the treadmill, squats, lunges). Other days, it’s arms (boxing, TRX pushups, and punishing rounds of pullups). He’s put the weight back on (yep, pure muscle), and his ostomy bag now bears the fashionable Nike swish, accessorizing his undeniable six-pack abs (evident because the man has no qualms about working out shirtless).

What’s more, his upbeat posts are infectious with positive-vibes advice. So, too, is his mega-watt smile, which beams with pure joy at how far he’s come. If you have Crohn’s disease, or struggle with any chronic condition that keeps you from achieving your life’s ambitions—or even face a temporary health setback that leaves you feeling less strong, less able, or less than all you want to be—Nixon feels you 100%. He also wants to encourage you to take that first baby step forward (and he gets how difficult it can be). But he knows you can do it—and the payoff is so worth it: “I feel better now than I ever did before my surgery.” Whatever the future holds, there's no doubt Nixon is fit for it.

Joel Dixon
Courtesy of the subject

10 Instagram quotes from #CrohnsWarrior Joel Nixon for dreaming big and going after your goals–and getting up stronger when life knocks you down:

  1. Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.

  2. Make a great playlist of music and just start walking.

  3. Buy some new gym clothes to make you feel good and more comfortable with exercising.

  4. Get a workout buddy!

  5. Join a 30-day challenge to keep you motivated.

  6. Remember, nothing happens overnight. Don’t be anxious to see the end result. Fall in love with the process.

  7. It’s only after you step out of your comfort zone that you begin to grow, change, and transform.

  8. Don’t wait until you reach your goal to be proud of yourself. Be proud in every step you take.

  9. Warriors are not the ones who always win but the ones who always fight.

  10. Life gets real sometimes. Getting knocked down is a part of it. Living is getting up, dusting yourself off, and continuing to move forward.

Lauren Paige Kennedy
Meet Our Writer
Lauren Paige Kennedy

Lauren assigns and edits articles across HealthCentral’s 90+ condition categories. She's written and/or edited health content for close to 20 years, and she’s interviewed some of the biggest names in Hollywood, music, sports, publishing, and politics—almost always with a health-focused slant. She was a Co-founding Editor of WebMD Magazine, Editor in Chief of Washington Flyer, and Corporate Copy Director of Condé Nast Media Group. Her work has appeared in WebMD Magazine and webmd.com, The Washington Post, USA Today/Weekend, Neurology Now, Brain + Life, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, WWD, Style.com, Washingtonian, Travel + Leisure, Financial Times, and many others.