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Triathlete Battling Disease To Compete In TriRock San Diego

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  • Published Sep 10, 2011

Age-grouper Joseph Morstad is racing in this weekend’s TriRock San Diego—his first triathlon. He has battled colitis for years and managed to find his way to Team Challenge and trained with them for the event. He discusses the disease and his experience with this charity organization.

Triathlete.com: Tell me about your experience with colitis.

Morstad: Looking back, my symptoms started in 2003. Nothing big at the time, just a few things that would come and go and nothing that couldn’t be explained away as an occasional “upset stomach.” I was living in New York City around this time and figured the symptoms then were just a result of the stress of the city. I even had a colonoscopy at NYU that came back clear. It wasn’t until 2008 when my ulcerative colitis couldn’t be ignored any longer. I was going through a lot of really stressful events in my life when UC sidelined me and put me in the hospital. During six weeks of severe and painful symptoms, I was unable to properly digest baby food, had lost 50 pounds, and had been in and out of the hospital on three separate occasions. Suddenly I had been diagnosed with this disease I had never heard of before and I had no clue what to do next.

Triathlete.com: What made you decide to do a triathlon?

Morstad: Looking back it just seemed to be the next step in my recovery. I had been feeling good and was doing a lot of weight lifting to help regain strength and put on muscle again. It was going great but I was spending a lot of time alone in the gym. I wanted to find a way to let more people know about Crohn’s and colitis. I emailed and met with a few people at CCFA (Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America) in San Diego. After a few meetings, I was signed up to be a mentor/participant with Team Challenge in TriRock.

Triathlete.com: How did you get involved with Team Challenge?

Morstad: It was May 11, 2008 when I left the hospital for the last time. For months and months after all I did was focus on eating and avoiding stress. Unfortunately for me, avoiding stress also meant living in fear. I was afraid to do anything, fearing that my UC would flare up again. Luckily, on May 11, 2010 (my two-year anniversary) something clicked inside me and I realized I needed to live life again and help others with this somehow. I started talking about UC more and more with friends and family. This grew into the desire to help others with UC and I was able to reconnect with Rolf Benirschke through a family friend. He put me in touch with CCFA, who put me in touch with the Team Challenge Endurance Manager, Greg Parkington. Greg and I spoke about Team Challenge’s involvement with TriRock and it sounded like a perfect fit for me. I would be able to test myself physically (if I could get through a triathlon, I could get through anything right?), fundraise to help find a cure, all the while being able to meet and train with a great group of motivated people! Sounded like a great opportunity!

Triathlete.com: What has the experience been like with this charity organization?

Morstad: Sincere is the best word to describe it. Everyone that I’ve met associated with CCFA and Team Challenge is sincere in their desire to help support this organization. Fun is also a great word to describe Team Challenge! Before this experience, I had a difficult time talking about my UC. Now it’s something I enjoy talking about. I’ll never forget the first practice I went to with Team Challenge. I met so many people either with Crohn’s or UC or that had a spouse with one of the diseases or was just there to help support a good cause. It was incredible to know that so many people are out there fundraising and working so hard-while having such a great time-to help support this charity. I am very lucky to have found CCFA and Team Challenge.

Triathlete.com: What are you most looking forward to in racing TriRock San Diego?

Morstad: I’m excited to see everyone cross the finish line. When we had our first Team Challenge coach/mentors meeting we all agreed that seeing everyone finish would mean success for the team. The excitement of seeing a group of people all train for and accomplish this goal is going to be worth all the laps in the pool and miles biked and ran. I am also very excited to see how I’ll feel as I come across that finish line and complete my first triathlon. And honestly, the post-race breakfast—really looking forward to that, too.

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