Norwich City star Russell Martin speaks about his health battle
08:38 28 May 2012
Archant © 2011
Norwich City player Russell Martin has spoken about his own battle with a debilitating health condition and why he is backing a charity campaign to help other sufferers.
What is ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease?
Together, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease affect about one person in every 250 in the UK.
They are chronic (ongoing) conditions, which are not infectious.
The most common age for diagnosis is between 10 and 40, although diagnosis can occur at any age.
In both there is a higher chance of developing either illness if you have a close relative who has the condition.
The cause or causes have not yet been identified in either illness, but both genetic factors and environmental triggers are likely to be involved.
Men and women suffer equally
The Canaries’ defender was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis shortly after joining the club, and he is now a sporting ambassador for Crohn’s and Colitis UK, and wants to share his experience of coping with the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The charity has recruited the support of sportsmen and women, including five-times Olympic gold medal winning rower Sir Steve Redgrave and former England rugby captain Lewis Moody, to offer their tips on how they maintain and return to fitness after a flare-up of their IBD.
The professional footballer first began to feel unwell two-and-a-half to three years ago, around the time he joined the Canaries in their battle to escape League One.
It was the club doctor who helped him towards a relatively swift diagnosis of ulcerative colitis and got him referred to a specialist.
What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is when inflammation and many tiny ulcers develop on the inside lining of the colon resulting in urgent and bloody diarrhoea, pain and continual tiredness. The condition varies as to how much of the colon is affected.
It can also cause inflammation in the eyes, skin and joints.
The severity of the symptoms fluctuates unpredictably over time. Patients are likely to experience flare-ups in between intervals of remission or reduced symptoms.
There is no cure but most patients will be treated with drugs, and some people need surgery to remove the whole of the colon.
He has been able to manage his condition by avoiding certain foods, such as chocolate, dairy, gluten, wheat and coffee, which can trigger a flare up.
The 26-year-old, who has a five-month-old son, said: “I had a lot of stomach pain and blood loss when I went to the toilet. There were abdominal cramps and I was wanting to go to the toilet about 15 to 20 times a day.
“Thankfully, I’m managing now on a strict diet; I’m not on any medication and I’ve been in remission for quite a while.
“When I was first diagnosed it was really tough. I’d jut signed for Norwich and it was a really exciting time both on and off the pitch.
“But I remember getting home from training and just lying on the sofa all afternoon which wasn’t nice because I felt tired all the time.
“Thankfully it was only like that for a couple of months and I had to take some steroids as well.
“The club showed a bit of faith in me and if I needed a day off from training, then they understood and were great.”
Fellow colitis sufferer Lewis Moody has spoken openly about the worries he had in telling his team mates about his condition, but Mr Martin says his fellow players have been “good as gold”, even if there is “a bit of banter” along the lines of teasing him about missing out when food he cannot eat, such as treats and biscuits, are handed round.
He said: “When I was first going through it they were great. I think you tend to find with a group of lads as close as we are that you stick together no matter what.”
With the London 2012 Olympics just a few weeks away, Crohn’s and Colitis UK is hoping its sports champions can help inspire people with IBD to keep on exercising.
And Mr Martin believes his fitness has helped him to manage his own condition.
He said: “I think the healthier you are the better and the easier it is to manage. I’m one of those people who can’t stop doing things anyway. My cousin also has the condition and she has been eating a bit healthier and looks a lot better for it.”
The former Peterborough player also revealed that the Scottish Football Association asked him to get in touch with fellow Scottish international Darren Fletcher, who announced last December that he would be taking a break from playing due to his own battle with ulcerative colitis.
He said: “We have exchanged texts, but keep on missing each other’s calls and I hope to speak to him at some point over the summer.
“Any help I can give him I will because I understand what he’s going through.”
Mr Martin said he could understand why the Manchester United player took the brave decision to take six months away from playing.
He added: “I was lucky because it was dealt with so quickly and while there is pressure in League One, it’s a bit different to the level of playing in the Champions League, where you need to be at your best week in and week out.”
Mr Martin, who unfortunately had to miss Adam Drury’s testimonial match due to commitments with the Scottish squad, also said he had been heartened by the amount of support he had received from fellow sufferers, who either approach him at signings or write to him through the club.
He said: “I have had lots of letters to the club and emails. People have been really positive and a lot of people who suffer with it have told me they are glad I have come out and said that I have it.
“I’ve written letters back about how I deal with it and hopefully it’s helped in some way.”
For the charity’s sport and fitness champions’ tips, log on to www.ibdsportandfitness.co.uk
Have you got a health story? Call reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email firstname.lastname@example.org