Caroline Bramwell: Don’t let surgery hold you back.
After surgery to remove her large intestine and colon, Caroline Bramwell from Devon, set out to get fit and prove to herself and others that surgery doesn’t have to restrict living life to the full. On July 17th 2016, she set out to become an Ironman; a race which includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile marathon run, to be completed within 17 hours.
In 2004 Caroline was pregnant with her second child when she realised that something was wrong with her bowel. She was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis – an autoimmune condition where the body attacks its own cells, leading to a lack of nutrition absorption, excruciating cramps and attacks of bleeding. After surgery she was prescribed steroids and other medication to counteract the side effects of the steroids, but over the following years the condition couldn’t be suppressed and she was unable to live a normal life.
By the time her baby Natasha was three, Caroline had become housebound. Admirably, she continued to run her PR & Marketing business from her bed, “I didn’t want my clients to know,” she says.
“It’s just not the way to spend your life, checking for suitable hedgerows.”
After four years, Caroline was offered surgery to remove her large intestine and colon, an operation she finally agreed to after one bush too many. “No one likes the idea of surgery,” she says, “you’ll do anything to try to cure yourself, but after being caught out on the way back from the cinema one night, I knew it was time.”
She had keyhole surgery in 2009. “When I woke up from surgery I couldn’t have been happier – no more pain, no more meds and no more Ulcerative Colitis – at last I could get on with my life.” Caroline still has her small intestine, the end of which protrudes through the stomach wall to form her stoma. She now has to wear an ileostomy bag.
From sofa athlete to half ironman and beyond
“I used to be a sofa athlete, but steroids bloated me terribly and I felt depressed from being overweight – that was my motivation to get fit. I needed a goal, so I signed up to the London to Paris in 24 hours cycle ride, six months after the surgery. My friends thought I was bonkers, but I loved it and got bitten by the cycling bug!”
In 2015 Caroline turned her hand to triathlon for the first time in her life, combatting a fear of open water swimming to complete six races (including the Outlaw Half iron distance and The Slateman) all on her heavy steel Audax bike affectionately known as ‘Donkey’.
“I wasn’t fast but I finished. The Outlaw took me over eight hours because I couldn’t run – but I had dreams of getting a carbon bike and becoming an Ironman.”
In January 2016 she was kindly sponsored by Trio Healthcare and Vanilla Blush to help her realise her dreams of becoming an Ironman. Trio Healthcare manufacture ostomy products, some of which Caroline uses during her training and races. Vanilla Blush is a lingerie shop on a mission to make women with stoma bags feel beautiful.
“Surgery doesn’t have to stop you doing the things you enjoy. Whether it’s an Ironman dream or simply getting into the pool – just don’t let the bag hold you back.”
London to Paris in 24 Hours – 270 mile cycle
Newcastle to London in 24 Hours – 300 mile cycle
Bideford Triathlon – Sprint distance
Ilfracombe Triathlon – Sprint distance
Tri the Beast Triathlon – Olympic distance
Snowdonia Slateman Triathlon – Sprint distance
Outlaw 70.3 Triathlon – Half Iron distance
Portland Coastal Half Marathon
Visit Caroline’s Website.
Follow Caroline on Twitter @carolinebramwell