Who I Am

Stephanie Gish

Fitness Fanatic, Wine Lover, and #CrohnsWarrior

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a suburb just outside of downtown. As a child, I was active with a competitive drive I couldn’t suppress. From about the age of 10, I was involved in the community gymnastics program that our city ran. I hated running (and still do), but that didn’t stop me from trying to win a turkey every year in my elementary school’s Thanksgiving Turkey Trot (I never won though) and when I finally got to high school, my tumbling served me well on the cheerleading squad.

UHHWhen I graduated high school, I headed off the mainland and began attending the University of Hawaii at Hilo. During my college search process, I had sent in a cheerleading tryout video tape to UHH and earned a place on their squad. A small confession here…I may have lied on my application slightly…saying that I weighed in at 115 pounds, when in fact I was hovering between 116 and 118. But, I figured I could easily drop two or three pounds and they’d never be the wiser. Thus, my true search for fitness and dieting knowledge began.

As a teenager, I lived on bagels, ramen noodles, Lipton Iced Tea (sweetened, of course), and sugar…oh, how I loved my sugar. My dad once challenged my two sisters and I to go one whole year without eating candy or sweets and if we were to succeed, he would pay us $100. Well, I think I made it roughly 12 hours. Needless to say, looking at my diet through the nutrition lens I have now, it’s no surprise to me that I could never drop those final two pounds. As I began my college cheerleading career, I was hungry to learn more about fitness and keeping myself in shape. I had recently stumbled across Oxygen magazine and started seeing all the lean fitness models…and then I discovered a VHS tape, “In Shape With Rachel McLIsh.” Rachel McLishThere was Rachel, on the cover of the VHS jacket, lean and beautiful…and holding a dumbbell. So, I figured if that’s what she was doing to look that good, that’s what I needed to be doing. Between Rachel’s tape and my Oxygen magazines, I walked into the college gym and started learning the basics of weight training. I was immediately hooked.

After a year on the Big Island, my young desire to be the next Katie Couric led me to finding a small, reputable journalism school in the Midwest, Eastern Illinois University. They offered me a $500 cheerleading scholarship and I could afford the all-you-can-ride summer Greyhound Bus pass, with which I could travel to my new school and back during the summer in order to obtain a driver’s license and be on my way to earning residency status in six months. So I traded in the sun, sand, beaches, and leis for flat terrain and corn fields as far as the eye could see.

That first year at EIU, I learned about an annual bodybuilding and fitness contest the school hosted. I started training and dieting feverishly, testing all my new-found knowledge. I spent hours in the gym and didn’t budge on my diet. When the day of the contest came, I was in peak condition and walked away with the title of Miss Fitness EIU.

EIU Competition

All that time in the gym, however, led my life down another path. At 5:00 a.m., when I did my morning cardio, the only people in the gym were me, a few older faculty, and the ROTC Cadets. The Battalion Commander would spend 10 minutes each morning riding on the elliptical next to mine making small talk and asking every time, without fail, why I wasn’t in the ROTC program. About a year of him asking me this, I decided to go into the ROTC offices one semester and “go get information” with the intent that I could politely blow him off later saying that I stopped by but it wasn’t for me. Long story short, I left the ROTC offices signed up for a LET IV level class, petitioned to be on an accelerated program so I could finish in a year and a half, and earned a commission as a 2LT in the U.S. Army upon graduation. So much for my plan to just get information…remember that competitive drive I mentioned…

From there, Army physical fitness training basically taught and reinforced everything I knew about the worst ways to workout. Group PT was the bane of my existence and I’m pretty sure the anthrax vaccines had a major role in what became my leaky gut and Crohn’s Disease. A broken bone in my foot led me down a path to some creative workout routines and eventually, a medical discharge from the Army. After two and a half years, my Army career was cut short. As timing would have it, about a month after I was officially discharged in 2006, I found myself curled up on the bathroom floor, unable to leave the house, and experiencing my first official Crohn’s flare.

Since that first flare, I have searched, read, researched, and tried a variety of diets and went on and off medications over the last 10 years. I was unwilling to simply trade one set of poor health symptoms for possible side effects from medications that would no doubt be worse than the Crohn’s itself; whether it manifested immediately or years down the road. I simply believed that there must be something I could do to help take control of my health. I’m not saying that I’ll never go back on medications, but I’m hoping and trying to remain off medications for as long as I can. My health is still a work in progress–and probably always will be–but I’ve remained determined to find ways that my diet and lifestyle can better my health. This blog is my way of sharing the journey.

It is my sincere hope that by sharing my story through short, witty blog posts, that even just one other person who is suffering from poor health or Crohn’s may find inspiration or hope through my experiences. If it wasn’t for the Internet and the countess searches I did, piecing together one anecdotal story to another, then I would probably still be relying 100% on immune-suppressing and immune-modulating drugs and not even considering whether diet and lifestyle might have any benefit. I’ve been off medications since May 2016 and feeling better than ever. A colonoscopy last month, done for dysplasia surveillance, showed my disease to be in remission…and my doctor’s orders on the written biopsy report sent to my home, said to keep eating my sauerkraut and he hopes it keeps working 🙂

Now, let’s get blogging, I have lots to share.

4 thoughts on “Who I Am

  1. What a wonderful story. I wish all the students could hear it. You were always one of the nicest and kindest people at school. I’m sorry I never knew you had all that going on when I would pop in and bug you. I wish you the best.

    1. Thank you for the kind words! You always did so much for the school, it was a pleasure having you there 🙂 All the best to you, too!

  2. Great start to your blog adventure! Your writing style is excellent so keep that going. I don’t have Crohn’s disease, but know of several others who do, so I am interested in learning about how you dealt with it and apparently got it turned around.

    1. Thank you! I will be detailing everything I’ve done, and continue to do, in future blog posts that will outline what helped me get control of my health and keep my Crohn’s in remission. I certainly hope that those who you know will find the information helpful and give them relief too 🙂

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