5 Olympians Who Battled Specialty Disease Conditions


Athletes from a variety of sports dealt with the hardships of diseases treated by specialty pharmacy.

Currently, more than 10,000 athletes from around the world are taking part in the Summer Olympics in Brazil. Athletes who make it to the games spend years undergoing grueling training to prepare for their competitions.

The individuals who compete in the games exude grit and determination from a lifetime of hard work. However, some of these athletes have been faced with challenges that exceed those of the average competitor.

These are athletes who have battled illnesses that place a significant burden on their health.

“Hard days are the best days because that’s when champions are made,” said Gabby Douglas, a gymnastics Olympic gold medalist, as reported by Medical Daily. “If you push through the hard days, then you can get through anything.

With the ongoing 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, here is a list of 5 Olympic athletes who have suffered from specialty health conditions.

Kathleen Baker

Since winning the silver medal in the 100m backstroke (58.75) on Monday at the 2016 Summer Olympics, 19-year-old Kathleen Baker has been all over the news. Although the win is hers, the silver medal represents something more.

It is a win for people all over the world suffering from Crohn’s disease. According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), Crohn’s is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that affects as many as 700,000 Americans.

Baker was first diagnosed at the age of 12, and for the next year her life revolved around visits to physician offices, medical tests, and illnesses that included a whooping cough and broken rib caused from a violent coughing episode, according to The New York Times. The first treatment she underwent involved a daily regimen of more than a dozen pills that as a result were ineffective. At one point in her early teens, the disease caused her to lose a significant amount of weight. Furthermore, her condition caused her to limit time in the pool to 1 practice per day instead of 2, because of fatigue — a significant training sacrifice for an Olympic athlete, reported NBC Olympics. Today, Baker is learning to manage her disease and celebrate her big win of the silver medal.

Greg Louganis

The iconic Louganis was only 16-years-old when he won a silver medal in the platform event at his first Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976, as reported by Britannica. He wouldn’t return to the games until 1984 in Los Angeles, because of the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1984. He went on to win gold medals in the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform. But his life took a turn while he was preparing for the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul. Just 6 months before the games, he learned that he was HIV-positive. Louganis told ESPN, “had they known about my HIV status at the ’88 Olympics in Seoul, I would have never been allowed into the country. But my doctor encouraged me that the healthiest thing for me would be to continue training for the Olympics.” He ended up winning the springboard and platform competitions, despite hitting his head on a diving board during the preliminary rounds.

Today, Louganis is at the 2016 Rio Olympics, serving as an official athlete mentor for the United States diving team, reported KUTV.

Eric Shanteau

In 2000, a 16-year-old Eric Shanteau swam at the Olympic Trials, competing in the 200 and 400 IM, as reported by his website ericshanteau.com. Once he graduated from Auburn University in 2006, he began training for the 2008 Olympic trials. But just a week before he was to compete for a spot on the Olympic team, Shanteau was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Although his physicians advised for him to undergo surgery and treatment, he chose to delay it in order to compete in the 200 breast stroke at the Beijing Olympics. While battling cancer, he ended up swimming his personal best time, and upon returning home, he began treatment and became cancer free in September 2008.

Although he was battling cancer less than a year prior, Shanteau returned to the pool and continued to compete, becoming world champion. By 2012, he returned to the game and attended the London Olympics, where he finished his career by winning a gold medal as a member of the 4 x 100 Medley Relay, according to ericshanteau.com.

Today, he is a Global Envoy for the LIVESTRONG Foundation, and is an advocate for cancer awareness among young adults.

Meghan Kinney

In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Meghan Kinney served as an alternate for the USA synchronized swimming team, where the women ended up placing ninth. While continuing to swim, she began feeling a nagging pain behind her knee that she chalked up to tendonitis, reported the National Gypsum. While on a flight to China for the World Cup, her knee had begun to swell. Despite this, Kinney went on to compete, where the team took sixth place. It would not be until October 2010, when Kinney was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma. That year, she spent around 100 days in the hospital undergoing treatment. In July 2016, after completing all of her treatment, Kinney’s tests came back cancer-free.

Robert McCall

After becoming critically ill with pneumonia in Maine while touring for a show, the Canadian Olympic figure skater Robert McCall was diagnosed with AIDS, reported The New York Times. Upon learning of his diagnosis, McCall kept his AIDS status a secret, so that he could continue to skate in the United States. During this time, the United States had the most restrictive immigration and customs policies worldwide, barring individuals with AIDS, according to the Times. Furthermore, admitting diagnoses brought the strong possibility of losing endorsements from sponsors, and more difficulty crossing border for competitions.

McCall first went to the Winter Olympics in 1984, where he placed eighth, and again in 1988, where he won the bronze medal. During that same year, he began to skate professionally, touring with Stars On Ice, and winning the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in 1989.

Unfortunately, McCall’s health continued to deteriorate and died in November 1991 at the age of 33 from AIDS-related brain cancer. “Rob’s death was the first time an Olympian passed away from AIDS,” 2-time Olympic silver medalist, Brain Orser told The Times in 1992. “It was important, and it’s a cause worthy of exposure.”

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