CAROLINE BRAMWELL'S JOURNEY
Caroline Bramwell has not invented some innovative recycling scheme, but she has written a book about a remarkable journey. Steve Dyster spoke to her about her journey and her forthcoming autobiography … Loo Rolls to Lycra: The Ironman Dreams of an IBD Sufferer.
“Writing the book was quite a cathartic experience,” Caroline said, “What with the illness and the medication there were so many things that my husband had to remind me of. My brain had blanked out some of the really horrible bits.”
A self-confessed couch potato, the only sport Caroline had ever taken part in was a charity cycle event through the Rift Valley in the late 1990s. “I’ve never been the sort of person to just go for a run or a ride; I’m naturally lazy. However, I have learned about myself that I’m pretty goal orientated; having a clear purpose and a challenge is what motivates me.”
During pregnancy with her second child, Caroline was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an inflammatory bowel disorder, which meant her business and family life started to recede as she became house-bound and hospitalised. Eventually her only option was to have major surgery to have her large intestine and colon removed, leaving Caroline with a permanent ileostomy and a stoma bag as a constant companion.
Whilst some patients may feel that outdoor exercise is pretty much out of the question after such surgery, Caroline set out in the opposite direction. Her desire to lose weight and regain her fitness was the embarkation point for a truly inspirational story; but her story is not without its ups and downs.
Caroline took the extra-ordinary decision to sign up for a cycle event for charity, riding London to Paris in 24hrs, enlisting a friend to join her. Following an appointment with her GP to check there were no reasons to not take part, her GP’s remarks were not too expect too much of her body and see how the training went. “But,” said Caroline, “to me this was a full out ‘go for it’!”
After completing this, and another 24 hour cycle from Newcastle to London, Caroline decided she wanted to learn to swim, so that she could enjoy fun time in the pool with her two children, who both loved swimming. Not only did she have to overcome her fear of water, but Caroline says “my children were my inspiration to swim”.
With cycling and swimming now mastered, Caroline turned to running and she now frequently competes in triathlons of all distances, including Ironman events (2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run).
Caroline is very open about her condition, indeed she welcomes the chance to show what can be done with determination, planning and a positive attitude to overcoming obstacles, both real and phantom.
“A lot of the things that hold us back are in our head. I’ve learned that if we plan for the worst that could happen we can always cope. You can be sure that fear will rarely be realised and situations don’t turn out to be as bad.”
“Most people say ‘Wow!’ when they see that I can compete, successfully, in triathlon. But I occasionally get some questioning looks when I, on occasion, use disabled facilities, because I am not obviously disabled. It’s important to realise that not all disabilities are visible. I don’t see my ileostomy as a disability, but it is a condition whereby I need access to water in toilet facilities and have a radar key to use the accessible toilets.
“But everyone I have met through my sport and those who have heard my story have been really supportive. It really touches my heart when people say, ‘I can do this, too.’ “
Loo Rolls to Lycra: The Ironman Dreams of an IBD Sufferer - Caroline’s story - comes out in January 2018. “I wrote it to share the experience, to educate people about living with inflammatory bowel disease and living life with a stoma, and to inspire.” Ironman, she says, is not compulsory. “It may be that someone with a similar condition will feel they can start walking or cycling or swimming, just for fun.”
Advice? Well, read the book. In the meantime, Caroline’s key words of wisdom are, “Get out and enjoy life; plan for things, but don’t be put-off; don’t worry about what other people might think.”
“Writing the book was, in the end, a very positive thing. I have accepted the past, let it go, and moved on.” Moved on very rapidly if her Ironman performances are anything to go by; she is now one of the UK’s leading ‘ostomy’ athletes. Along her way Caroline has developed a thorough knowledge of bushes, trees, public toilets, how to deal with nay-saying, and she hopes that Loo Rolls to Lycra will empower and enthuse people to set off on their own journeys.
A personally signed copy of the book can be purchase direct from Caroline’s website
LOO ROLLS TO LYCRA
The Ironman Dreams of an IBD Sufferer
By Caroline Bramwell will be published in January 2018. There’ll be a review on www.sevendaycyclist.com
Images courtesy of Caroline Bramwell
INTERVIEW PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2017