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Rising Above: Jack Fitzwater's Battle with Ulcerative Colitis

In the world of football, Jack Fitzwater, the 26-year-old defender, has showcased his prowess on the pitch, making over 100 appearances for Scottish Premiership side Livingston and joining Exeter City last summer. Yet, behind the scenes, Fitzwater grappled with a silent adversary that threatened to disrupt not only his career but his daily life.

"I was going to the toilet between 20-30 times a day. It was embarrassing and difficult from a mental and physical side. I was thinking to myself deep down, am I going to have to quit football?" Fitzwater candidly shared his struggles with BBC Sport.

As someone intimately acquainted with the challenges of ulcerative colitis, I resonate deeply with Fitzwater's journey. Diagnosed in December 2000, I am all too familiar with the debilitating nature of this illness. Fitzwater's openness about his experiences sheds light on the often-overlooked battles individuals face, even those seemingly at the peak of physical fitness.

The journey began with an urgency to visit the toilet, a seemingly innocuous issue that snowballed into something more ominous. "Every time I went to the toilet, there was blood in it. After matches, I was finding that my recovery was taking longer; I was tired all the time, no matter how much sleep I got," he revealed.

Hiding behind a facade of wellness, Fitzwater masked his symptoms until a breaking point during a family holiday in Ibiza. The relentless urgency to use the toilet became an overwhelming struggle, prompting him to seek medical help upon his return.

It was then that Fitzwater received a severe diagnosis - ulcerative colitis. A condition, unfamiliar to him, where the colon and rectum become inflamed, causing recurring diarrhoea, stomach pain, and a need for regular bowel movements. Despite being a robust athlete, Fitzwater discovered that health battles don't discriminate.

"I was waking up at 03:00 in the morning, going downstairs to reception and going to local toilets outside of the hotel, just to try and disguise it. I didn't want my family to know about it at the time," he shared, shedding light on the emotional toll of the condition.

Breaking the silence around his health, Fitzwater opened up about his struggles during Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week, aiming to destigmatise seeking help. "I think as a man, we think there's a stigma around not going to see your doctor - that it's a weakness and it's embarrassing. But it doesn't really pass unless you've got the right medication to deal with it."

The prevalence of ulcerative colitis is highlighted by Fitzwater's inclusion among the 296,000 individuals in the UK diagnosed with the condition. Despite the challenges, Fitzwater emphasises the importance of awareness, understanding, and access to proper medication.

"Because it's a hidden disability and people see a young, fit, healthy man using disabled toilets, they might give me a strange look. But little things like the card and the key are massive for the community that I'm now a part of," Fitzwater expressed.

Embracing his role as a member of Crohn's and Colitis UK, Fitzwater encourages dialogue and support for those facing similar challenges. His journey underscores the resilience required not just on the football field but in overcoming personal adversities with grace and strength.

"I knew of the word Crohn's but not colitis, so then I went on Instagram and Twitter to check out what it was. You think it's the end of the world at the time. But then when you know there's medication that can help you, you feel better about it," he concludes, emphasising the power of awareness and the crucial role medication plays in managing the condition.

As someone who has navigated the complexities of ulcerative colitis, I stand in solidarity with Fitzwater and echo his call for open conversations, understanding, and support for those battling this often-invisible illness.

Best wishes,


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