Ambassador Q&A with Dylan Swan
Dylan Swan has battled Crohn’s disease for a decade. Since diagnosis, he has had multiple surgeries including the removal of 80cm of bowel and numerous complications along the way. Starting Infliximab infusions bimonthly drastically improved his quality of life.
Dylan is a former personal trainer of 8 years, and is currently giving his body a rest in an office environment as the hours and demand became detrimental to his health. Dylan trains 5-7 days a week and competes in multiple events based around strength and fitness.
Any advice for beginners to get into a physical routine that will help them reach 150kms?
My biggest piece of advice is to plan, plan, plan!! Also to work within a limit that you know that works in with your health and lifestyle. Don't start a target that doesn't work with your real life schedule and flare ups. It is quite a lot of exercise and if youre not used to doing that much, even broken up it can be challenging. That's where planning ahead will really help you set and achieve your goal so you can break it down and not be overwhelmed by the 150km total. When I completed the Live Fearless Challenge in 2018, I challenged myself to run 5km every day, at the time I was running a lot anyway so I the distance wasn't something that worried me, but forcing myself to run 5km every day is something I had never done before and didn't realise how hard it would actually be, physically and mentally! I felt great some days and wanted to do more and some days it took me until 9pm to finally find the energy or motivation to get out and do it. This was only my mindset of needing to do 5km everyday no matter what, a smart way for people doing this year's challenge is to do a little extra when you feel good (but not too much that it becomes detrimental to your goal) and give your body a rest when you don't. Try to get your family or friends involved, a walk, run or workout always goes by a lot quicker when you are with a friend! Try walking / running to any errands or visiting family and friends that you can, you'll be surprised how quickly it all adds up.
Has being active helped your psychological wellbeing? How so?
Being physically active has 1000000000% helped my psychological wellbeing. Crohn's disease is so debilitating and unpredictable that it is very easy to get down, depressed or defeated. Being physically active allows me to take back some control of my physical and mental state. Achieving a tough workout, competition or hike leaves me feeling amazing and that I am so much more than my disease. When I go through bad flare ups and my physical activity is limited, I feel worse then just how the Crohn's is affecting me. I feel more sluggish and depressed that my body isn't doing amazing things but instead working against me. So many people take their health for granted, but I (and anyone that suffers with Crohn’s) knows just how valuable and sometimes rare, feeling good actually is. When you make that realisation, you want to celebrate the times you are feeling "normal" or at least "normalish" and workout to celebrate your body not to punish it. When I know that I can do what other "normal" people can do, even though I have Crohn's, it allows me to keep a positive mindset and believe that I won't let my disease define me. I find that even when I am struggling, a walk or a few minutes of exercise helps mindset which helps me not stay down for too long.
How were you able to bounce back after surgery and get back to exercising?
Exercise is such a big part of my life. During my surgeries I struggled mentally not being able to move from the hospital bed for three months and being house bound for three more. I had a 7cm tear in my abs from the surgery (similar to a pregnancy with twins) so basic movements like rolling over or trying to situp up were nearly impossible without assistance. I started out very small when I was able to move around more, walking for 5-10mins a day before getting tired. When I built up a little more stamina, I started using the gym and used machine weights on the lightest weights to help slowly build myself back up without causing any more issues. It was a frustrating time because I wanted to do more and believed I could in my head, but physically I couldn't. It taught me a lot about myself and taught me how I couldn't control every situation I was in and had to take the slow route that would be more beneficial. I slowly progressed with my walking and exercises and felt those small little wins kept me going and kept pushing me to eventually get back to where I was.
Any advice for people facing their first surgery or for those thinking about surgery to help manage their Crohn’s or colitis.
Obviously every situation is different and everyone's disease effects them differently, but for me, getting surgery changed my life in a very positive way. Before I had surgery, I was in and out of the ER frequently, I was on multiple different medications that would only "help" for a short period of time before needing to increase dosage (from specialist orders not on my own) or change meds completely, but nothing ever really seemed to fully work. Talk to your specialist about your situation and what the benefits / risks are by going down the surgery path. My specialist advised me that it was risky to try and that it didn't help that would leave us with no other option than to get a pouch, which for a then 24 year old seemed like the worst outcome possible. Luckily the surgery along with infliximab has helped me live with a much better quality of life and I haven't needed to go down that path yet, but there are definitely risks involved which is why it is so important to have detailed discussions before jumping in.
Always seek advice from a registered health care professional for answers to your medical questions.