Triathlete dietitian prepares for world championships after life-changing surgery

A multi-title triathlon winning dietitian at Sherwood Forest Hospitals who has undergone life-changing surgery is preparing to swim, run and cycle her way to a gold medal at next month’s World Triathlon Championships.

Michelle Willcocks, a Diabetes Specialist Dietitian at King’s Mill Hospital, had major surgery six years ago, at just 25-years-old, resulting in the formation of a stoma with a pouch to collect body waste. She had been suffering from a condition called Ulcerative Colitis that causes inflammation and ulcers in the bowel.

Michelle Willcocks 1 2

Not letting the surgery or stoma pouch hold her back, Michelle has gone on to qualify for the World Triathlon Grand Final, which will take place in Rotterdam in September and brings together some of the world’s best triathletes.

Preparation is already underway and Michelle is training every weekend and most evenings around her job at the hospital for the 10km run, 1,500 metre swim and 40km cycle that make up the triathlon.

Michelle said: “I am very excited to be competing in this year’s World Triathlon Championships. After undergoing major surgery in 2011, I didn’t even think a podium place in a local triathlon would ever be possible, and now I am about to race the world’s best age group triathletes after winning gold and becoming European champion in June!

“While poorly I lost two stone in weight, which left me weak and I could barely walk. After having my operation I started to rebuild my fitness, strength and endurance and was amazed at just how resilient the human body can be and how much you can push it both physically and mentally – the stoma has not held me back. I didn’t realise how ill I was until I had recovered from surgery and could see how much better my quality of life is.”

With six gold medals already under her belt from this year alone, one of which was won at the European Triathlon Championships in Dusseldorf and three others are national titles, Michelle is no stranger to competing in triathlons. While working as a full-time dietitian, Michelle has dedicated life outside of work to triathlon training.

She said: “Since having my surgery, triathlon has become a lifestyle as well as a true passion. I feel like my positive work-life balance gives me the time and flexibility to train and achieve my goals and my manager and team at King’s Mill Hospital have been fantastic, giving me lots of support. They were also very supportive before my surgery when I started my career in my first dietitian role here at the hospital and suffered intermittent flare ups because of my illness.”

Getting over major surgery isn’t always easy, but Michelle is keen to show that it doesn’t have to stop people from achieving their goals. She works closely with the Ileostomy Association, talking about what she has accomplished and supporting others who have gone through similar surgery.

Sherwood Forest Hospitals’ Stoma Care Specialist, Jane Cooke, said: “Stoma surgery can have a profound effect on people’s lives but this is a fantastic achievement for Michelle and she’s an inspiration to others who have had surgery. Not only has Michelle overcome the hurdles associated with having a stoma pouch in day-to-day life, but she has gone further and overcome the hurdles that come with competing in a triathlon with a pouch too. All of us at Sherwood Forest Hospitals wish her the best of luck for next month’s competition.”

bike section euro champsMichelle will compete in the Age Group World Championships Standard distance in the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam on Sunday 17 September. For more information, visit the webpage. For Ileostomy information and support, visit the Ileostomy Association webpage.