About Brittani Nicholl
When I was just seven years of age I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, and though having to go through a lot at such a young age I have not let it stop me from doing the things I love. Having grown up on the Tweed Coast of Australia it was only a matter of time before I decided to take up surfing at the age of twelve years, and I have not looked back since.
After being in and out of hospitals over the years I was eventually told the news at the age of sixteen that major surgery was inevitable. At first the surgery was a success, but after several complications and a near death experience I had no option but to undergo further surgery which required having an ileostomy bag.
The ileostomy bag would allow the bowel to rest, but at that time doctors could not say how long I would have the ileostomy for and there was still discussion with the surgeon that they may have to remove the entire bowel. Living with an ileostomy was hard enough to get my head around, but surfing with an ileostomy…that was a challenge. I’d learnt not to eat at least 1-2 hours leading up to going for a surf and I surfed in a one piece swimsuit, at times a wetsuit as well to keep everything in place on my stomach. I had a few mishaps with leakage and irritation whilst surfing with the bag but it was all worth it in the end just to be doing something I loved, and I still continued to travel and achieve a lot with my surfing.
In 2009 I won my first Open Women’s NSW State Title, where I later went on to create history by winning that same event three years consecutively and in 2011 I went on to win my first Australian Title.
In November 2009 I broke my ankle in two places whilst out surfing a local break at home, which required surgery and a screw. This kept me out of the water for almost 5 months; and whilst out with my ankle, my surgeon thought it’d be best to get the reversal of the ileostomy done…giving me less time out of the water.
After almost three years of living with a stoma and ileostomy bag, I had the surgery to get it all reversed and remove the bag in early 2010. It was a daunting feeling because the bag had been the best thing for me and my health, I wouldn’t be here without it. With the outcome of the reversal being unknown I was scared that things would go back to being as bad as they were before I’d had the original surgery in 2007 and my health would go back downhill, but fortunately this was not the case and in late 2012 I had my first colonoscopy since having the reversal surgery…for the first time in 16 years, I could say I was in remission!
In 2011 I became a National Ambassador for Crohn’s & Colitis Australia and have since spoken about my story at charity events, luncheons, youth camps, and also Parliament House. I’d like people to have a better understanding of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and my wish as an ambassador is to promote this disease more openly; as it can affect anyone at any time and it isn’t an easy thing speak about.
I finished my 2013 WQS season of surfing with a World Ranking of 24, but unfortunately due to unexpected health obstacles in 2014 I was unable to compete in all events, finishing with a World Ranking of 39.
2015 was an extremely difficult year, with life being put on hold due to my health… I required an ileostomy bag for a second time, which ended up being the least of my worries! I spent 10 months out of action, and went through several different surgeries and hospital visits. In the end I had 20cm’s of my small bowel removed, and had the ileostomy reversed again after 9 months.
I entered the water again just before the new year with the hope of a fresh start for 2016, but unfortunately those moments of feeling healthy were short lived and my Crohn’s Disease relapsed. I started competing again and travelled to various locations overseas, although soon realised my health was deteriorating. I persisted and pushed through it for as long as I could, but eventually had no choice but to pull back as my health is my main priority. I was lucky enough to represent Australia in the 2016 ISA World Surfing Games held in Costa Rica, and although unwell I managed to make it through six days of surfing and give it all I could on the day! I am so thankful to have had the privilege to represent my country doing what I love.
Now in 2017, I am still in a relapse and am doing all I can to get on top of things and regain my health. I am now seeing a Professor in Sydney, along with my Specialist on the Gold Coast and have started different treatment. It’s been a long road, but I am determined I am on the right path and things will only continue to improve.
I recently represented Australia as Team Captain in the 2017 ISA World Surfing Games in Biarritz. Now home, I will commence my next increased dose of treatment for Crohn’s disease. My main focus is on getting my health as best I can despite the situation, as well as juggling work, full-time University, training, and other commitments.
Keep Smiling 🙂