Swimming With IBD: The Amazing Kathleen Baker

Patient Expert

During the Olympics, the Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis community will have its eyes focused on U.S. Swimming team member Kathleen Baker. She recently told the world that she has Crohn’s disease, and it isn’t stopping her from following her dreams to become an Olympic swimmer.

I can only imagine the battles Kathleen has gone through with her Crohn’s while working to reach such a high level of swimming. What she is doing leaves me speechless. I’ve had the honor of talking to a couple of Olympic athletes in my life, and from their experiences, I can say that Kathleen is probably pushing her body to the limits and then continuing to push even further.

A little over a year ago, I began endurance swimming in order to accomplish my own dream of completing a triathlon. After years of not swimming (other than the occasional trip to the pool for fun), I jumped into Lake George thinking that swimming a mile wouldn’t be that hard. “I’ll get through it” I thought. It was INCREDIBLY difficult, even impossible at that point. I couldn’t go any farther, and instead capsized the kayak in which my girlfriend was rowing next to me.

That week I called up a friend who I knew was a good swimmer and then jumped in the pool with him. Once again it was incredibly difficult. My body forced me to take a break after just a few laps. Clearly, I was getting into something that would take time and effort to accomplish. Learning to swim long distances wasn’t going to be easy.

My friend kept telling me that once I got the breathing technique down, it would click and swimming would get easier. The problem is, I was concentrating on so many other things. Every second in the pool I would think about things: breathing, my stroke, staying straight in the lane, kicking, rotating my body, ohh and of course my IBDAlong with my Crohn’s disease, I also live with an ostomy, so getting into the pool comes with a list of other things I have to think about. On top of just trying to stay above water, I also had to add a long list of other questions that would pop in my head. Is my stomach feeling okay? Did I go to the bathroom before I got in the pool? Is my ostomy strong? Will I be the person to close the pool down? And MORE!

The physical battles of becoming a stronger swimmer and trying not to overtire myself or drown were constant. But along with the physical battles, I had endless mental battles. This is why I am amazed at what Kathleen Baker is doing. She is inspiring me. Not only to get stronger and become a faster swimmer, but also keep up with my personal dreams of becoming an Ironman.

Kathleen had a goal in mind years ago. She wanted to be an Olympic athlete despite her Crohn’s disease. I’m guessing that she couldn’t do this alone. Kathleen’s support network probably sat down with her and came up with a game plan on how they were going to do this; Not only for training, but how to manage her IBD.

It’s great to see Kathleen’s dream coming true. I can only imagine how many Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis patients she will be inspiring to go after their own dreams. She’s showing us that so much is possible with IBD.

It’s not easy and we all have to carefully define our own goals. Some of us might just be trying to get out of a hospital bed, others might be trying to go for a walk around the neighborhood, maybe trying to go for a run or bike ride. **No matter what your dream is, Kathleen is an inspiring story and setting an example that we should all strive to follow.