We’ve known and been travelling and shooting with Oli Adams for years. He’s done it the hard way. Read on for an inspiring tale of not letting life grind you down. No matter what.
It’s funny the swings and roundabouts of life. Middle of February the first issue of Carve came out and in the awards section we had this:
Triumph Over Adversity: Oli Adams
What a lot of people don’t realise is that Oli is actually a pretty sick kid. He has Crohn’s disease and it nails him from time to time. Literally putting him flat on his back in hospital. Not to mention making his ample travelling tricky as he has to be real careful with what he eats.
When you take that into consideration you have to say he is a total inspiration and it’s no wonder he froths out so much when he’s healthy. This year Oli went careering all over the UK on missions, some fruitful, some leading to him being stuck on islands for a little longer than was good for his sanity. Watch his film ‘The Hunt For Hipsamama’ if you get chance a rare gem of a movie. Sharpy actually flew off the island and left him there on one trip so we had the full commentary on missed ferries, some of which even came into view before turning around and giving up and one slightly miffed, yet very understanding, wife! Emma you deserve an award as well really. Best Pro Surfer Wife Patience Award!
Then last week this post on Oli’s Facebook page which went crazily viral:
Most people close to me know that I have been battling with Crohn’s disease since I was Thirteen which I have largely kept private but I feel the time has come to open up…12 weeks ago I became so ill that had to have life saving emergency surgery to remove my whole large intestine, leaving me with a colostomy bag. The plan was to have 2 further operations over the next few months to reverse the colostomy and get me free of the stoma bag. However, yesterday I was given life changing news, biopsy results have shown that because of the type of disease I have my stoma is irreversible and I will most likely have to live with a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. But its not all bad news as I am disease and medication free for the first time in my adult life and I intend to turn this into a positive… I am already surfing again with the stoma and I am excited to see what potential could be unlocked with my surfing and my new disease free body. I am determined to come back stronger than ever! I would like to thank my amazing wife Emma, family and friends for their love and support, my sponsors and the surf media for their continued support and belief in me and the brilliant staff at Exeter hospital who saved my life.
Steve England caught up with Oli now the dust is beginning to settle…
How long have you been suffering?
Since I was 13 but I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 23
What exactly does it mean as a kid? What did you have to give up? How did you get your head around it at such young age?
As a kid I just always felt tired and shaky which really affected my surfing but also my confidence because it really affects your concentration and brain function when you’re not taking in nutrients from your food. I lived away from my parents from the age of 14 too so even though I felt really tired and needed to go to the toilet all the time. I didn’t really have anyone to look out for me and advise me at the time because I was on my own really. Because I was so young and also a vegetarian I just always thought it was I didn’t eat meat or that it was normal to feel like that. During the last few weeks I’ve felt what it’s like to feel normal energy for the first time and I can’t believe how I used to feel.
How did it affect your life?
When you have a flare up you first you start feeling really tired but in a horrible way, then you know it’s coming! This will be followed by needing to go to the toilet urgently soon after where you will probably be gutted to notice a lot of blood. Now you know your life is on hold for anywhere between two days to months and months if it’s a bad one. It was really up and down and got worse as I got older. In the last ten years I’ve spent so much time on my back because I was having flare ups that I’ve missed out on loads. But any time that I’ve felt slightly better I’ve made sure that I pushed myself to surf and keep going to save my career and to do what I love to do most which is to surf.
How did you cope/manage it?
At first the doctors put me on steroids to calm the inflammation but they didn’t agree with me at all and I had full on ‘roid rage and had to come off them. Then they put me on immune suppressant (chemo) drugs which are pretty much evil and the side affects made me feel worse than the illness. It felt like I had a dark cloud over me and a heavy weight over my head giving me a full time headache and no strength. Eventually I got referred to a Exeter hospital where they have a really good specialist department and they put me on a different kind of drug that they dripped into my arm for an hour every eight weeks. That sorted me right out even though the risks of developing other problems from it was a real worry for me. I still wasn’t 100 percent but in the last few years I was able to keep the flare ups to once every couple of months and I had the best couple of years surfing of my life. Half way through last year my body built up antibodies to the drug and I lost response to it meaning my only option was surgery. They had me booked in for the end of Jan but by November I was getting so ill that I was told to come in to hospital if things got really bad. In December things were so bad that I was rushed in and after a few tests they operated on me straight away as my blood pressure was dropping fast and I had nothing left. They said that most of my large intestine was so thin that another day and it would likely burst which on that scale would have been it.
It’s one of those diseases no one really either wants to, or does talk about. So I guess there are a lot of people out there suffering?
Yeah the symptoms that you get are something that most people are scared or embarrassed to talk about. You need to go to the toilet up to 20 times a day so you either have to stay at home or shit in the craziest places and the problem is once you’ve gone you need to go again ten mins later which is so annoying and painful when you’re surfing. A few times I’ve to pull down my wetsuit on an icy reef up north in Feb and afterwards I’ve been too cold to go back in haha!
How did you manage to keep on top of your surfing so long? You must have to commit pretty hard to training?
To honest it’s the opposite, I’ve never been able to train consistently because I had to use all the energy I had for surfing. A few time I trained for a couple of weeks but then I’d get a flare up and I would lose all the work I’d done by the time I was feeling ok again. Also my body wasn’t getting enough out of my food so my muscle tone would get eaten away when I surfed because that was the only way me body could find energy. Most of my surfing was done through mental strength I guess, I wanted it so badly that when I was feeling ok I just pushed myself and even when I was having flare ups I still competed and went on trips, it was so gnarly when I think about it now but I didn’t want to lose my career so I just got on with it.
What was the op and and how did it come about?
I was so scared leading up to it as I’d never had an op before for anything, but by end I was so ill and I knew it was the only option and I welcomed it because I knew that I’d die without it.
It seems pretty heavy, but I guess in way you must have sense of relief that you are now effectively cured, although obviously having to manage the resulting mechanics?
It’s been really hard to adjust to life with a stoma and at first I would look down and nearly cry, just thinking how has it come to this. But as time has gone on and I’m feeling better and stronger than I ever have. I’m just so stoked to be free from that horrible illness and excited to see what I can achieve with training and energy.
Were you surprised by the support when you eventually ‘came out’ about the op and disease?
I couldn’t believe it! I looked on my Facebook athlete page and it said 400,000 people had seen my post and the messages were so amazing. The best thing about it was that my aim was to help raise awareness and give hope to people in my situation and that was exactly what is happening. There have been so many people who thought they couldn’t surf with a bag and now are excited to think that it’s possible which is so cool. When I put it up I thought shit maybe this is a bit too heavy because there’s a picture of me just after the op and I haven’t come round yet but the response has been overwhelming so I think it struck a chord with people. Thank you to everyone who sent me messages of support, I read every one and it was one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me, humans all have love in them and this kind of thing brings the best out in people. So I guess every negative has a positive.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
I’ve got a crazy schedule in mind as there is so much I want to do now that I’m better. First I’m going to make a film about what I’ve been through as I’ve filmed everything so far from getting ill to going into surgery and after, first surf back, first barrel and I’m going to interview the surgeons and hopefully a few high profile sports stars who have gone through a similar thing to help raise awareness for the disease. Also I’m going to hit a few different destinations around the world this year as I want to mix it up from the cold water stuff and I’ve got some other big projects in the pipeline which I can’t talk about just yet that are going be insane if I can pull them off. I’m undecided whether I’m going to go back to world tour again now that I’m better, I feel like I have unfinished business there but I’ll have to start from the bottom again and give up surfing sick waves so we’ll see. I’m going to continue with my Elite Academy once a month because I’m loving being able to help these wee geezers to achieve their dreams of becoming a pro surfer and they are all little legends! Right now I’m off the gym and I’m just going to keep training my arse off in the Sports Hub with my trainer Ed Corkhill to get into the best physical shape I can and then see where that takes me. Life is good!
Can I give a big shout of to my wife and kids, all my family, sponsors, trainer Ed, filmer Danya and everyone who has wished me well on this wild ride … Legends!