Fighting Crohn’s Disease and Winning at Kickboxing with Caradh O’ Donovan

Most people with a chronic illness like Crohn’s Disease would be happy to get through the day, but for Caradh O’ Donovan the day is not complete without intensive training sessions and medal dreaming.
I knew of Caradh from seeing her winning world titles and multiple Irish titles in Kickboxing. It was only when we spoke that I realised she’s also fighting another battle with her health.
Now 33, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s about three years ago. And suddenly all her changes and swings in form on the mat were explained.
It’s a horrible disease that causes inflammation in the bowel, often leading to bleeding, vomiting blood, severe cramps and absolute exhaustion. Not the best preperation for fighting to say the least.

Caradh said: ‘Crohn’s is a hidden disease, it’s taboo to talk about it. I was at the European Championships in Greece oneyear, and I was so sick but there was just one toilet for about 1,000 women. Fighters, coaches, referees – just one loo. It was terrible, it’s humiliating when you have to ask to skip the queue.’

But it’s the feeling out of being out of control, while competing at a level where control is everything which is the most frustrating, she said.
‘I feel I never got to my potential in kickboxing, there were days when I was up and down. I was winning when things were good so that was OK obviously. ut it was out of my control other days.
‘I don’t have any regrets, but I do feel if I was healthy all the time I could have done better,’ she said.
And explained: ‘I used to think it was psychological. I could not understand why I could do well in one round, and the next day do badly. People used to say I was hot and cold, they questioned my mental focus. Now I know that Crohn’s is at the root of it.’

Her biggest fear when she was diagnosed was having to stop competing – some Crohn’s sufferers need an ileostomy bag on the outside of their stomachs to collect waste, obviously you can’t get kicked in the body wearing that. So far Caradh has not needed this.
‘That’s my big fear, it’s not about the aesthetics of it, but according to the rules you can’t compete with it,’ she said, grimacing.

She also has to keep a close on which meds she takes – WADA are watching everyone for slip-ups.

‘It’s so worrying, planning everything. But now I have a lot of help, it’s more under control. Now I’m more prepared – and more confident to speak out about what’s happening to me. People shouldn’t be ashamed.’
Follow Caradh on Twitter @CaradhODonovan and on Instagram @Caradh