Sink or Swim: Jane Hatwell Vs. Ulcerative Colitis

Jane Hatwell Happy
Photo Courtesy: Jane Hatwell

By Seren Jones, Swimming World College Intern

Take the time to imagine your life as you know it. You wake up, practice, eat, go to school, practice, eat then sleep. Your routine is regular and daily, and all you know. It may be uncomfortable at times, but being an athlete isn’t meant to be easy.

Now take the time to imagine that you can no longer physically and mentally exercise as much as you used to. You are diagnosed with a long-term invisible illness that is not publically recognized. You begin to experience severe physical pain, which you discover is currently medically incurable. As you begin to feel worse, your sleep becomes restless – almost pointless, and you lose almost all of the energy that you have left. Eventually, your active lifestyle has been robbed from you and you’re left fighting for the person you used to be, and long to become once more.

Many of us, if we were in this position, would lose faith in ourselves and the world around us. Giving up would be the easiest option.

This is not the case for Jane Hatwell.

Jane Hatwell 2

Photo Courtesy: Jane Hatwell

Jane Hatwell has been battling with ulcerative colitis since 2008. Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the colon. The disease is a type of colitis, which is a group of diseases that causes inflammation of the colon, the largest section of the large intestine.

Although her condition improved in 2010, Hatwell was hospitalized in September 2014 and has been in relapse for over a year.

“I was eventually withdrawn from normal foods and put on prescription food drinks for eight months to boost my immune system, give my insides a rest and prevent malnutrition.”

However, this is easier said than done for the Englishwoman from Essex.

“Gradually food becomes your enemy as you relate food to pain and sickness. This illness is like having food poisoning every day and night. It’s like your body has anorexia NOT your mind, as your body constantly rejects foods.”

Despite being informed that if she were to reach the point of remission, she would need to undergo major bowl surgery, Hatwell hasn’t lost faith, because “swimming has taken over.”

“This illness has dominated and consumed my life for over a year now,” she said. “At times, I couldn’t physically take part in any other activity without ‘serious major side effects,’ but the moment I got into the pool, I felt like me again. [On the] days when I could barely get out of bed due to ongoing pain, illness, lack of sleep, and lack of foods I would literally drag myself to the pool and there I found my strength through swimming.”

Even though Hatwell’s illness dominated her life both mentally and physically, she managed to maintain her optimistic, unwavering attitude.

Jane Hatwell and Co.

Photo Courtesy: Jane Hatwell

“Through all the pain and sickness I have always tried to remain focused,” she said. “I’ve still managed to keep up some of my fitness levels, even though it’s been a real struggle at times.”

Swimming became Hatwell’s everyday focus. The 44-year-old can swim a mile in approximately 35 minutes, and she aims to further increase her speed.

“Yesterday I swam two miles continuously,” she said. “I truly believe I have swum myself back into fitness.”

Hatwell isn’t just swimming to prove to herself that she is stronger than her illness, but she also does it for those who can empathize with her disability through the Aspire Charity, who supports those who have suffered paralysis through Spinal Cord injury.

“Although I haven’t experienced paralysis through injury, which is what Aspire Charity is about, I have been frozen in time unable to do things like I used to,” said Hatwell, who has always been active in raising money for various charities through sports events in the past, including Crohn’s and Colitis UK since being diagnosed. “I hope this helps raise awareness for Crohn’s and Colitis, which leaves a lot of people terribly isolated. This illness is very unrecognized and at its worst, it can kill. The lack of public knowledge makes it very isolating and a hidden illness. I hope I give some encouragement to others who are suffering silently like this.”

Jane Hatwell 1

Photo Courtesy: Jane Hatwell

As her method of raising money, Hatwell entered Aspire’s “Channel Swim Challenge” event on Sept. 14, and succeeded to swim 22 miles in 22 days, whilst experiencing the symptoms of ulcerative colitis: “lack of sleep, lack of foods, and ongoing pain and suffering.”

Despite having to give up her job and active lifestyle, Hatwell insists on finding the positive in the negative.

“This success for me has proven to me that no matter how tough things get, I will always do my best to take control any which way I can,” she said. “Losing so much has taught me how resilient and strong I really am inside. Even on my darkest days, I hang onto hope and keep moving forward, even if it means I drag myself.”

Since being diagnosed with the illness, Hatwell has had the time to reflect on how her experience has helped shape her the person she is today.

“It’s funny how a disability or major setback in your life can become an advantage. When things we take for granted, like our freedom to do as we please, and our freedom of choice is taken away, you either sink or swim.”

“Being deprived of freedom, sleep, and food brought me to another level of hunger. I have a point to prove – as do many others in my position – and it made me want it more. I want it more than those who take it for granted and that’s my advantage. I cherish every day that I feel well and live that day to its fullest.”

Hatwell believes that she is “slowly but surely” winning her battle. After her rollercoaster year, she has returned to the work force and currently works at Redbridge Cycling Club. Hatwell is gradually making good progress and believes having a goal, hanging onto hope, and heading to the pool, has enhanced her road to recovery.

To donate to Hatwell’s cause, or to read more about her journey, click here or check out her Zoggs diary.

Jane Zoggs

Photo Courtesy: Jane Hatwell

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Jane Laura
8 years ago

Thank you to writer Seren Jones I feel honoured that an interest in my story and struggles should be published by yourselves.
To date I’m so lucky to have avoided any surgery but I know at some point this may be inevitable!
I truly hope this helps inspire others out there who may be struggling with all types of “not so visible” conditions.

SJ Parker-Smithy
8 years ago

I’m so glad your story is getting out there. Let’s hope it sends a clear message out there to those who are struggling and those who readily judge others on 1st appearance!! X

Tony Parker
8 years ago

Actions speak so much louder than words and this young lady’s actions speak VOLUMES! I hear you my love and god bless your future. Such an inspiring story of hope and determination.

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