Whenever I tell someone I have epilepsy, I’m often greeted with a look of confusion, particularly when I tell people I love to do triathlons. How can someone with epilepsy take part in these events? Is normally the question asked. But my reply is, as long as I’m safe and not putting anyone in danger, why can’t someone with a disability take part?
Epilepsy is a bit of a beast in that it can actually change over the years. You can quite easily start with one kind of seizure then it develop or change into another type, which is pretty understandable when you know that there are actually over 40 types of seizure. However, each person who has the condition knows their kind better than anyone else, such as triggers, warnings and so forth.
My epilepsy falls under the umbrella of what they call focal seizures which means I’m still awake, I don’t fit, I just zone out for a bit. They are very scary for me. Mine used to happen frequently during the day, but then they switched to becoming nocturnal. My last day time seizure was last year, but nocturnals are far more frequent. My seizures are a blur, I get a warning sign called an aura and then I swallow a lot, but they are over before I know it. I’m left very confused afterwards, but that is it. The aura is a blessing because I know when it’s about to happen.
Why race if you have epilepsy
I race because I love it. Some people look at me totally confused when I tell them I love the swim more than anything. How can you swim? Swimming actually keeps me super chilled out, even in a race environment. They say swimming is excellent for your mental health, and I couldn’t agree more. My epilepsy trigger is stress, unhappy stress, feeling completely overwhelmed. But racing has the opposite effect for me, it gives me a different focus. I tend to find the more I dwell on my condition or get sad about it, the more likely a seizure would be to happen. When I’m focusing on something else, in this case triathlon, I’m absorbed into that.
Are you safe to race?
Yes I am. Do you know what? If I wasn’t feeling right, I wouldn’t race, I’d pull out. I wear an ‘I have epilepsy’ wristband so people know. I have had one seizure during a run before I was diagnosed back in 2011. Even then I got myself to a safe spot, sat down, let it pass, gathered myself and continued to finish the race.
What to do if you have a medical condition?
Let organisers know. Safety first! I have had to defend myself on a few occasions that I’m fit to race because the lack of education on epilepsy means they can automatically think you have tonic clonics. That is more risky, BUT that doesn’t mean people cannot compete. But let organisers know. At Ironman Indian Wells La Quinta 70.3, I let the organiser know, then was invited in to meet the team and they let all Marshalls know to make sure I was okay along the way. The kayakers out for water safety knew when I got in and out. It was so nice they took it all on board and were super accommodating. I loved it that much I’m going back to do it again later this year.
How can I get support?
For me, I don’t really feel I need too much support, just to ensure I’ve let organisers know. Things like, taking my medication before racing, making sure I have my husband at races, and that I’m feeling good to go are most important for me. However, if you have a disability of some sort, there is support out there. I am a huge fan of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, they support athletes with disabilities like mine to achieve their race goals. If you’re someone who is taking part in events and are able, you can actually raise money for the CAF Foundation too.
Can I do this if I have a disability too?
You know you better than anyone else. If you’re reading this because you want to do triathlons but have epilepsy, then start small and build from there. Smaller races are a great introduction into the sport, but be sure to find what works for you. Not so sure on the swim? Try a duathlon which is run, bike, run. Trust me when I say there are ways around things and you can adapt, but the main thing in all of this is to be safe. If your epilepsy is a mess and quite frequent, then consult your doctor first.
I have good and bad days with this condition, but let me tell you, before I was diagnosed with this disability I wasn’t as active as I am now. Having epilepsy has made me so determined. For some inspiration be sure to check out some other incredible triathletes with epilepsy, Matt Russell and Hannah Moore.