Guest Post by Robbie Kochs
One of my favorite quotes comes from a very famous man by the name of Rocky Balboa, and he says, “It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.” You see, there are always going to be things in your life that will continue to knock you down, and what happens in the end determines how you handle yourself when you get knocked down. There is always something good to look at in a bad situation. This is why, when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the beginning of my senior year of college, I knew that this was just another obstacle that I had to overcome in order to achieve my dream of becoming the next Rings National Champion.
To give you a little background about myself, I grew up doing gymnastics in a city just outside of Atlanta called Lawrenceville, Georgia. When I was a senior in high school, I received a walk-on offer to be on the University of Nebraska’s Men’s Gymnastics team. I gladly accepted the offer and started attending in August 2010. Honestly, I cannot remember when I started seeing symptoms or if something even triggered it. I didn’t even know something was “wrong” with me. I figured that my constant fatigue was just a result of my physical activity. Eventually, I was able to get through practices without getting a rush of nausea, cramps, and the feeling of having to go to the bathroom. I know that most people think that the logical thing would be to go to the doctor, but I think I was either oblivious, or just occupied with bettering my skills in the gym.
I did end up going to the doctor and quickly was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. After I found out that I had Crohn’s, I vowed that I would do everything in my power to not let my Crohn’s affect my mind and my gymnastics abilities. It was hard at first. Very hard. My coaches were really concerned about me and told me to do whatever I needed to do. I told them that all I needed to do was be on the rings working my butt off. I missed several practices at first in the months of August and September of 2014 because my Crohn’s was acting up, and every time that I would miss practice I would think about how much I was letting my team down. That was all that I cared about.
I finally talked to my assistant coach, Johnny, about it and he told me that no one thought that I was letting them down. He did say, however, that he thinks that it would be good for me to come in on the days that I was sick. He said that I didn’t have to do much, but even just having my presence there would mean that much more to the team. So from that day forward I started making it to every single practice.
I knew that I was a leader on the team and I knew that if I kept fighting it could potentially inspire my teammates to fight their own battles just the same. I had to be strong in order to stay strong.
Some people say you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left. And man are they right! I never would have thought that I would have even had the power to overcome all of the obstacles that I have endured in only a 6-month period.
It was hard to figure out when I would have my good days and when I’d have my bad days. Sometimes I would feel great in the mornings, but by the time practice would come around my Crohn’s would start acting up. It was a constant battle with my body and I had to fight through it every single day. But I knew I was stronger, mentally and physically. To this day I continue to have constant visions of me at the NCAA Championship Finals doing my final routine perfectly and sticking the dismount. I see it as clear as day every single day, and that dream, that vision, is what is keeping me moving forward. This is why I continue to fight day in and day out.
At first, I believed that I should continue fighting in order to show my teammates that you should never give up. I wanted them to rely on me and to look at me and say, “Look at this huge obstacle that he has overcome. If Robbie can do that, then I can get through my own obstacles just fine.” This was my number 1 concern in the fall, to help my teammates fight their own battles and help them continue to stay positive. And by the time December came around my teammates decided to vote for me to be their Captain for the 2015 season. I was very honored, and a little overwhelmed at the same time. But I knew that if I just stayed positive then I would be able to successfully lead my team to victory. By the time I was nominated team captain, I felt as though God was telling me that I was ready to go forward and tell people about my story.
A journalist by the name of Nick Wilkinson who works with the Daily Nebraskan newspaper wanted to do an interview with me just to discuss the preseason expectations for our team. As we were wrapping up the interview Nick asked me, “Well is there anything else that you feel you want to tell me or anyone else?” I thought about it for just a couple of seconds and I finally gathered up the courage to say, “Yeah actually I do…. Back in August, I um….. in August I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.”
I could hear him on the other side of the phone fumbling for what sounded like a sheet of paper and he said with shock, “Wow, well that is something big. So how have you been able to get through this semester knowing that you have this? It’s gotta be pretty hard for you right?”
I told him about what I have experienced and all of the obstacles that I have faced, and by the end of the interview, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of my chest. I had never told my story to anyone like that before, and Nick seemed to be genuinely concerned and impressed at the same time. When I told my story, I never would have imagined the type of feedback that I received. You can read the finished article at www.dailynebraskan.com.
Ever since this article has gone out, I have been getting people who I don’t even know messaging me on Facebook and other social media websites telling me how much of an inspiration I am to them. I have had people tell me that my story has inspired them to continue fighting and to never give up. I have had grown adults tell me that I have inspired them to get off their butts and go work out because “If a 23 year old kid can do this AND overcome Crohn’s, then I should be able to as well!” I have had parents ask me to help their children through their hard time with this disease, and I have tried my hardest to let them know that I am available to them for any help that they need. I have had kids and teens even tell me that they really appreciated my story and told me how much of an inspiration I am to them. All of this sounds very overwhelming (because it is!), but I never realized the impact that I would have on people just by telling my story.
I never realized that I had the power to impact people who I have never even seen or talked to before. And you know what that did for me? It pushed my motivation ten times more.
As I read every single message, as I sent every single message back, as I started to understand my purpose in life, I started to get chills throughout my entire body. I finally figured out the reason for all of this. For everything. The reason I had Crohn’s, the reason I was meant to go through all of these obstacles, the reason I had to fight all of these battles everyday, the reason I was the team Captain of the University of Nebraska’s Men’s Gymnastics team, the reason why I am alive. I finally understood my purpose.
God has graced me with this disease. Yes, He has GRACED me with it. I am glad that I have Crohn’s disease. Why, you ask? Because I would have never become as strong as I am today without it. This disease has made me stronger. Stronger than I would have ever imagined. And only He gives me the power to be able to do what I do, and that is to fight every single day. This disease has taught me to look at the good things in life even when you are in a bad situation; any type of situation.
It has taught me to accept the fact that there are going to be obstacles in the way of any goal that I set. Every time I get knocked down I do my very best not to stay down, but to brush myself off, learn from my mistakes, and to continue my journey as a stronger person. If there is one thing that I want people to know it is that failure is not a step backward. It is a step forward. Every time you fail you learn something new every time, and when you get back up to continue down your own path you are not starting back from the beginning. You are just continuing on where you left off last time before you got knocked down.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to “manage” my Crohn’s without having to be hospitalized, although I still deal with symptoms. I have had many practices where I have reached my body’s limit and have sat over the toilet or the trash can dry heaving while the entire world was spinning. I think that what I am trying to say is that everyone has his or her own battles. Everyone has their own goals, and everyone has their own body limitations. If you are able to think positively about any aspect in your life then anything you set your mind to is possible. Just never lose sight of hope. Never stop fighting, and never give up. Because you never know who you might inspire from your own success story. Everyone has the potential to be great and become an inspiration.
Robbie Kocks is a Crohn’s patient and in his senior year as a gymnast at the University of Nebraska, where he leads as team captain and looks to win the NCAA championship on the rings. He is the school record holder in this event, as well as on the Athlete-Scholar Honor Roll, all while living with Crohn’s Disease.