Competing with Colitis - Siobhan-Marie O’Connor

12 November 2020

Writing from Margaret Island in Budapest, where hundreds of swimmers and staff are in a protective bubble to take part in the International Swimming League, Siobhan-Marie O'Connor told us how it's going and how she's putting her health first whilst competing on the global stage.


Being a professional athlete and managing an invisible illness brings lots of challenges. When considering committing to the International Swimming League (ISL) this season, I had to weigh up all the benefits against the risks.

When it comes to any decision regarding my swimming, my health always has to come first.

Siobhan-Marie O'Connor
Living with Colitis

The ISL is an annual professional swimming league, established last year, where ten teams compete against each other until a winning team is declared at the end of the season in the final. Last year the competition took place from September through to December in cities all around the world, with the final taking place in Las Vegas. This season, because of the pandemic, things are being done differently. All the teams have travelled to Budapest where the matches are taking place in a 6-week period and all athletes and staff must remain in a ‘bubble’ for the duration!

Taking everything into account, I believed that although these are really uncertain times, and having this condition can make me a bit more susceptible to picking up illness, I felt that I would be well looked after and safe in the bubble environment and having the opportunity to race again was something I was really keen to make the most of. I have signed with the London Roar team for both seasons. The team came second last year and we are hoping to go one better this time! We are currently getting ready for the semi-final, where we hope to finish in the top two teams and make it through to the final next weekend. All our matches are being shown on IPlayer.

There are some days that are definitely harder than others, but I am lucky to have a great support system.

Since being here in Budapest, I have felt very safe. We are being tested every few days and there are very good health protocols in place. For me, the biggest hurdle is the day to day struggle of trying to manage my Colitis and still train and compete to the best of my ability.

One of the most important things I have learnt is that I have to be completely open and honest with my coaches and team at training because otherwise they can’t support me or help me to get back on track if they don’t know what is going on and I just try and deal with it myself. There have been many times where my Colitis has caused me to miss competitions and training which is very frustrating and has been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with throughout my career. It also has an effect on me mentally because of how difficult it can be when my body is not allowing me to do what I want to and know I can.

I always try to remember that I have still been able to achieve my goals and when times get tough that they will get better, and that my family and friends are there to help me through no matter what and I am very lucky because of that.

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