This post is written by Elizabeth Boik. She’s a Nima college ambassador, celiac warrior, and student studying at the University of Louisville.
I am a former collegiate tennis player and full-time student. I had no health problems except a few injuries until my freshman year of college. In the spring of 2016 I started to get sick after eating, lost a lot of weight, was losing hair, and was sleeping through multiple alarms.
That summer I finally went to a doctor and was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
I was very upset and confused about how I could go from a healthy college athlete to one who could not compete in the upcoming season. Due to waiting so long to be diagnosed I had severe anemia. I was getting iron infusions, but I was not able to play tennis. The athletic trainers at my university were scared because of how low my iron levels were. I had to check in with an athletic trainer every day before practice and tell him if I napped that day, felt tired or weak, and if I felt like I had the energy to play tennis. Based off what I said and how I looked they would decide how long I could practice with the team. It was hard for me to sit on the sidelines and watch my team play without me.
It was a long journey but after a few months I slowly worked my way up to participating in a whole practice, weights sessions, and eventually matches. I remember being very frustrated. My goal growing up was playing college tennis and all of a sudden, I couldn’t. I was confused on how a healthy 19-year-old would have to all of sudden change her lifestyle.
Now I have accepted my health issues and want to use my story to help others. Here are a few pieces of advice I wanted to share from my journey:
Tips for college students with celiac or gluten intolerance:
1. Advocate for yourself at dining halls by meeting with the chef or kitchen manager and explain what you can and cannot eat.
2. Always carry a safe snack with you just in case there are not gluten free options available.
3. Make a list of places you can eat at so when friends want to go out to eat you can give them options.
Tips for college athletes with celiac disease or gluten intolerance:
1. Inform your coach and school’s athletic training staff about your intolerance.
2. Inform them on what could happen if you eat gluten.
3. Bring safe snacks to practices, weights, games, and when traveling.
4. Pack safe breakfast items when traveling just in case the hotel does not provide any.
5. Help your coach(es) decide where the team should eat so you know there are gluten free options available.
6. If you accidentally eat gluten inform your coaches.