When you think of a role model, who comes to mind? By definition, a role model is ‘a person looked up to by others as an example to be imitated.’ One of the most well-known role models in the inflammatory bowel disease community is Texas Rangers pitcher, Jake Diekman. Jake has battled ulcerative colitis for more than 20 years. But, he didn’t let his daunting diagnosis derail his dreams of hitting the mound as a professional athlete.
Since January, Jake has endured three surgeries to remove and rebuild his colon. In the first surgery, Jake had his colon removed and was fitted with a temporary ostomy bag. Then, doctors looped a portion of his small intestine around itself to form an internal reservoir, called a J-Pouch. This essentially replaces the functionality of the colon. Jake had hopes of waiting for the surgeries until the offseason, but his disease had a different game plan in mind.
When this left-handed pitcher isn’t busy closing out games or battling his disease, he’s raising money and awareness for the cause. He has the term “Gut It Out” tattooed on the inside of his right wrist and created the “Gut It Out” Foundation. A non-for-profit organization that’s main mission is to support IBD patients. His t-shirt sales alone have raised more than $12,000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Jake makes a point of connecting with people of all ages who endure IBD. He goes above and beyond to meet with kids and teens across the United States and organizes fundraisers for the cause.
I had a chance to ask Jake some questions about his inspiring battle with ulcerative colitis. Here’s what he had to say:
NH: What’s is like to play professional baseball while battling a chronic illness?
JD: Some days are definitely harder than others, but you just push through. Surprisingly, my UC has never bothered me while I’m on the mound. Before and after yes, but for whatever reason, I was able to block it out while actually pitching in games. I do become more fatigued than my teammates and have to stay on top of my hydration on very hot days, but other than that, I try to not let it dictate my baseball career.
NH: What advice do you have for kids who aspire to be like you, but face the unknown with their illness?
JD: Listen to your doctors. They know best and they are giving you instruction for a reason. When I was a kid, I used to think I knew better, but I always turned out to be wrong. Follow the plans they give you to the best of your ability, and be patient.Don’t let these diseases stop you from chasing any dream you have. I think I am a good testament to that.
NH: What does the “Gut it Out” effort mean to you?
JD: Gut It Out means to just push through the tough times. Be as strong as you can and literally, gut it out with all your might. I wanted other people to be inspired by that mantra and to use it when they need it most, in any aspect of life.
NH: How has your diagnosis and disease journey impacted the person you are?
JD: It has taught me how tough I am. It has taught me to be more patient in life (still working on that). It has made the little things not seem as stressful as they are, because there are bigger issues in life and bigger hurdles you might have to face. It’s taught me how to listen to my body and know my limits.
NH: How has your fiancee, Amanda’s, support helped you overcome obstacles?
JD: Amanda has been my rock through all of this. Without her, I don’t know how I would have gotten through. She doesn’t let me mope, she pushes me to do the best I can and not let anything stop me. She’s been there for me through it all, and talked me off a lot of ledges. At the end of the day, knowing I have her by my side, makes everything better.
NH: Are there any misconceptions about UC or Crohn’s that you want people to know about?
JD: That it doesn’t have to be embarrassing, and it’s not just all about going to the bathroom a lot. There doesn’t need to be a stigma behind having a bag, or having these diseases, because at the end of the day, we are all human. I want people to know how isolating and lonely it can be, how it can affect your social life and your relationships, and I want people to have a little compassion for those going through this. Be patient with your friend or family member, and let them know they aren’t alone.
Jake made a triumphant return back to the mound against the Los Angeles Angels on September 1. He received a standing ovation from the crowd at Globe Life Park after retiring all three hitters and earning a big win. It’s amazing to think the same person who was hunched over in a hospital gown walking gingerly through the hallways months ago, is now sporting a Rangers uniform standing before thousands…pitching at the highest level.
Click here to learn more about the Gut It Out Foundation. A special thank you to Jake for taking the time to respond and share his incredible story. Words don’t do justice to explain how Jake’s efforts to spread awareness make a difference. From one IBD’er to another, thank you!