From the Bathroom to Kona

Grant Henry is Kona Inspired

We recently caught up to Grant Henry, a colitis patient and Team Challenge alum who is fighting for awareness with his campaign for an entry into the Kona Ironman World Championships, through the Kona Inspired contest. If he wins, he plans to wear IBD apparel, discuss it in the media, and do everything he can to increase awareness of this and Crohn’s Disease. View his entry video and vote here.

GBM: Tell us about your disease. What do you have, when were you diagnosed, any medication or surgical details you want to share, and how are you feeling now?

Grant: I suffer from ulcerative colitis and was diagnosed in the summer of 2006 after completing my undergrad. I have actually been lucky from a surgical standpoint, but I have been on a variety of medications over the course of the past seven years. Through trial and error, the two medications that have helped me the most are Colazal and hydrocortisone enemas. I take 2250mg of Colazal at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I use the enemas once a week, unless I am in a flare – in which case I use them twice daily until I hopefully get back into remission. Currently, I am feeling okay. It is a never-ending battle and I was just bed-ridden for a week. Thanks to a liquid diet and a double dose of enemas, I am back in remission!

GBM: Was there a specific event or turning point that inspired you to get involved in the IBD community?

Grant: I moved to Los Angeles in September 2012 without any friends or family anywhere nearby. I had always wanted to be involved with the CCFA, so I set up an appointment with a member of the LA Chapter who  introduced me to Team Challenge (the CCFA Endurance training program). Since I had made such a big transition from living in Tucson, AZ to such a large city as Los Angeles, I wanted to be around other people who knew the struggles that I dealt with daily.

I still remember the first practice that I went to with the LA/OC Team Challenge chapter and was met with open arms. I could discuss anything that was on my mind and was not judged, rather encouraged to share my story. It was then that I realized that I was part of a “family” unlike any that I could have possibly dreamt.

GBM: How did you learn to be open about your disease, and share your story? Discuss the benefits to you personally in dealing with IBD, and the benefits to those around you and the IBD community.

Grant: It was very difficult at first to open up about my disease. Obviously, discussing IBD is something that did not come up in everyday conversations. It was a long process that began with my family. They helped give me the confidence to not hide from my illness and embrace my “uniqueness.” I would be lying if I didn’t say it was scary! I was afraid of the perception that people would have about me and begin to feel sorry for me.

I did not want sympathy – rather for people who were not aware of the complications of IBD to learn and understand the struggles that I dealt with personally.

Once I finally began to not let IBD define me, I began to regain the self-confidence that I thought was lost forever. I came to the realization that IBD would not dictate my life. As a result, I became very comfortable discussing IBD with those who had knowledge of the illness, or had no idea what I was talking about. Being able to share my story openly made it easier for others with IBD to discuss their stories with me, which lead to wonderful conversations that were beneficial for both sides. I had no problem making “poop jokes” or any statements about going to the bathroom, if it made others in the IBD community become much more comfortable.

GBM: What advice would you give to others who are looking to become more confident and open with their experiences?

Grant: My advice is not to rush! Plain and simple. When you are ready to open up about your experiences, you will know. There is no scientific formula nor any methodology that can be contrived that says when you should discuss your symptoms and stories of IBD.

Being around other people who have IBD can really change your outlook on life. Once you hear other people sharing their stories, whether it is online or in-person, you will realize that there is no judgment. When that feeling of judgment dissipates, confidence will eventually come out of you. The duration for how long it takes to become more confident is different for everyone, but never forget that everyone in the IBD community wants to help! We can’t help, unless you share your story!

GBM: How has being an athlete helped you deal with IBD? Does this go both ways? Has having IBD made you a stronger competitor?

Grant: It’s funny – – I am a very atypical athlete! I was a basketball player growing up, but unfortunately I never grew above six feet tall and my dreams of becoming a professional basketball player went out the window after high school. I always hated running. And it wasn’t until a couple years after being diagnosed with IBD did I realize that running would not only make me healthier, but also reduce my stress levels tremendously.

I had to learn how to run properly. My father taught me how to ride a bike at the age of twenty-five. And I honestly can say that I am not the best swimmer! However, I developed this contagious spirit that I could do things that I had once deemed impossible when I was healthy. I began to compete in endurance events ranging from half-marathons to bike tours to a Half-Ironman competition.

There is no question that IBD has made me a stronger competitor. It has put a chip on my shoulder and has made me want to prove to not only myself, but to others that have IBD that “anything is possible!”

GBM: Talk to us about your entry into Kona Inspired. For those not familiar, why is Kona a big deal? Tell us about your video contest.

Grant: I have entered the Kona Inspired contest for a chance to compete in this year’s Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. As part of this contest, the Ironman Foundation is choosing seven inspirational videos that represent their mantra that “anything is possible.” I created a 90-second video describing my struggles with IBD and how I wanted to represent the IBD community in the most revered endurance competition in the world.

Kona Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run! But what makes Kona stand out from other Ironman competitions is that you have to qualify in order to have a chance of being selected. It truly is the ultimate endurance event in the world. Actually, on EBAY, the Ironman Foundation is selling 6 spots as part of a fundraiser to the highest bidders. One spot had reached almost $23,000! Being able to compete on a global scale with athletes from all around the world would surreal!

GBM: Wow, that sounds awesome! Do you think this will make a big splash (no pun intended) for IBD awareness?

Grant: The impact that it would have in creating IBD awareness would be indescribable. Having someone standing at the starting line with the world’s greatest athletes at the most celebrated endurance competition in the world would show the IBD community that our illness does not define us! Having someone with IBD in a competition of this magnitude would create endless possibilities to help aid those who currently suffer and for those who are diagnosed in the future. IBD is not a household name like some of the other chronic illnesses that are out there, but Kona would provide the platform to educate and promote awareness to inconceivable heights.

GBM: As an athlete, what tips would you have for others that are dealing with IBD and also looking to stay fit. 

Grant: From my perspective – distance nor speed matters. Getting out of bed, even if you do not feel great, and going for a walk will not only help from an athletic standpoint but mentally as well. Anyone dealing with IBD knows that stress aggravates our illness, which can cause an array of problems. Working out, no matter at what capacity, will not only make you feel better but will improve your self-esteem. I have met many people who want to get in shape, but lack the motivation. My advice is simple; find a group of friends and go for a walk. You will find that working out with other people is not only enjoyable, but allows you to accomplish goals that you wouldn’t have undertaken by yourself.

And as far as nutrition and training, it is the same thing that I always say about people with IBD – we are all different! What works for me may not work for you and vice-versa. It is a trial and error system that will eventually come to fruition. It may take some time, but in the end, you will find what works for you!

GBM: What is the most positive thing that you’ve gotten from your journey with IBD?

Grant: The most positive thing that I have gotten from my journey with IBD is that I have become friends with people from all over the world who I probably would have never met if I were not diagnosed. Friendships that will last a lifetime and people who will always be there no matter what may happen in the future. In an indirect way, I was blessed to have developed IBD because I have met some of the most incredible people and am lucky to call them my friends!

GBM: Finally, what can others do to help you get to Kona and spread awareness? (Note- the first round of voting has ended. Cross your fingers as we wait to see if Grant made the finals!)

Grant: To help with my campaign, you can view and vote for my video multiple times (from all your computers and devices). You can share the video on Facebook and Twitter or even send an email to friends and family. This contest has never been about me, but about everyone who struggles with IBD and wants to see it represented on the biggest stage in the world! Thank you so much for your support!

Update: Unfortunately, Grant was not selected as a finalist for the Kona Inspired contest. Finalists were chosen by a combination of voting, video views and exposure, and judges’ decisions. Grant completed the Ironman Arizona race in November of 2014 and we couldn’t be prouder!

grant henry colitisGrant Henry is a patient of Ulcerative Colitis, and a participant of the CCFA’s Team Challenge program. He lives in Arizona where he works to have conversations about IBD and spread awareness everywhere he goes.