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Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Colitis nearly forced Olympic swimmer to quit

Siobhan-Marie O-Connor

2019 World Aquatics Championships
Dates: 12-28 July Venue: Gwangju, South Korea
Coverage: Highlights on BBC Two, updates on BBC R5L Sports Extra, and reports on the BBC Sport website and app.

Olympic silver medallist Siobhan-Marie O’Connor feared she would be forced to quit swimming after being in hospital with her colitis condition.

The Briton, 23, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis shortly after competing at the London 2012 Games.

O’Connor has managed the symptoms since, but suffered a serious flare-up in December and January.

“I didn’t know it could get that bad – it took me by surprise and was really scary,” she told BBC Sport.

O’Connor, who describes the six-month period between October 2018 and March this year as the “toughest” of her career, will race on the opening day of swimming at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in South Korea on Sunday.

“At that point [in December], I was thinking: ‘Is the Olympic dream for next year over?’ I could barely swim and that was a really scary prospect.

“I genuinely wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to swim any more.”

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease which affects the lining of the large intestine, and in O’Connor’s case means she is prone to bouts of extreme fatigue and picking up viruses as a result of a weakened immune system.

“The symptoms can be debilitating and embarrassing – but to everyone around you, it can be invisible,” she said.

After being given a new course of medication at the beginning of the year O’Connor began making improvements and in April managed – with only a few weeks of training – to secure her place on the British team for South Korea with victory at the national championships in Glasgow.

Siobhan-Marie O-Connor Instagram post

Dave McNulty, who has coached double Commonwealth champion O’Connor for over nine years, believes few people actually understand what the swimmer has endured.

“Colitis is a disease that gives you fatigue when you’re at work or looking after your family, so to have it and be a high-performance athlete is incredibly difficult,” he told BBC Sport.

“She’s come through another tough period, but she has her strength back and has that little glint in her eye that I saw years ago – so I just hope she gets what she deserves.”

O’Connor admits she has struggled for motivation since achieving her “dream” by winning an Olympic medal at Rio 2016, but insists her recent health scare has given her a new perspective.

“I didn’t have the hunger and the drive after Rio, but being at that point where I thought I might have to stop made me realise I didn’t want to,” she said.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do the sport I love to this level, and all I want is to get back to my best and give everything I have heading towards Tokyo 2020.”

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BBC Sport – Swimming

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