Vicki Thomas flies the colors in Koksijde. © Bart Hazen

Vicki Thomas at Koksijde, her last race of the season. © Bart Hazen

Canadian Elite crosser and Cyclocross Magazine contributor Vicki Thomas reflects on a year that didn’t work out quite the way she had hoped, and reveals how those experiences have fueled her ambition for the next season.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a rider diary for Cyclocross Magazine. In fact I think my last one was just before the Koksijde World Cup. Well, as fate would have it, the Koksijde World Cup was my last race of the 2010-2011 cyclocross season.

You may know that I have a disease called ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is an auto-immune disease that attacks the large intestine (colon) making it hard, and at times impossible, to digest food and absorb nutrients. For people like me with ulcerative colitis, one is either in a “flare” or in a “remission.” The super challenging aspect of this disease is that because there is no known cause, it’s hard to know when I’ll switch from being in a remission to being in a flare.

I had been in a flare since the middle of May, but was able to train through it. With a careful balance of medication, rest and diet, I was able to manage my disease and still get the most I could out of my body on the bike. Well, when ’cross season started my body finally gave up. I was super fatigued and was not able to race or train like I wanted to. The season, to be frank, was simply going rather terribly.

But, I’m not one to back down from a challenge and besides, plane tickets, car leases and accommodation arrangements had already been made – I was still going to Belgium for the season. As luck would have it, in the middle of October my ulcerative colitis went into a remission. Nor rhyme or reason for why this happened – I and my doctor assumed it was due to the medication.

What a relief. I could start some hard training again, and hopefully my body would come around in time to still have a successful season and accomplish my goal of racing at the World Cyclocross Championships in St. Wendel, Germany. I started to find bits and pieces of my racing legs and really felt like I was on the path to some decent racing. Little did I know that the Koksijde World Cup would be my finale.

I had a decent ride at Koksijde – the sand is such a tremendous beast, and those sand dunes seem to just suck the energy from your entire body. But still, I love that race. The crowds and the atmosphere make it one of the most electric World Cups on the schedule. I left this race feeling not bad. I was a tad disappointed, however, as even though I had a decent ride, I ended up falling five UCI points short of qualifying for the Canadian team that would be racing at the Worlds.

Oddly enough as I sit here now in February, I realize that not earning those five UCI points was a blessing in disguise. Just four days after racing in Koksijde, I woke up with my body in an ulcerative colitis flare. Not good. I took this in stride – after all, I’ve raced and trained through a flare before. I took the normal steps – put myself on a low reside/low fiber diet (no fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, gluten or foods with fiber) and I contacted my doctor here to get some medicine that would help my body to heal.

Well, this was like no other flare I’ve had. I wasn’t able to train or ride. It was all I could do to get to the grocery store and do basic errands. My body was wiped out, and all I really did for four weeks was lie in bed or watch television. Finally, on Christmas Eve, my husband forced me to go to the hospital for a colonoscopy. I did not leave the hospital until New Year’s Eve.

Yep, I spent Christmas in Belgium in the hospital in Herentals. Really really not fun. But I have to say this was the right decision. By the time I got to the hospital, I hadn’t eaten anything in three days. I was quickly hooked up to an intravenous line that pumped calories and medicine into my body. I received top-notch care and learned that my ulcerative colitis has changed from a mild case to a severe case. Not the news anyone wants to hear.

But the good news is I’m on some new medicine that looks like it’ll work and, if my body tolerates it, should keep me in a remission for a long time. (Cross your fingers for me!) When I left the hospital on New Year’s Eve I was so weak I could barely walk up the stairs and I had lost six kilograms. It was tough to be living in a house with two other bike racers (my husband Marc Boudreau and Canadian Junior Karl Hoppner) who were out racing and training.

When I left the hospital I didn’t expect to be riding my bike until March. Well, after two weeks of being out of the hospital I was given permission by my doctor to do some “light” riding. That first ride of 30 minutes was awesome. It was also extremely challenging – my balance was off, my body was so empty that at the end of the ride I needed to rest for a day.

Now in the first week of February I’ve done numerous two-hour rides, a three-hour ride, and I even did a 40-kilometer mountain bike/cyclocross group ride with 600 other people. My fitness and strength is definitely not where it was, but I’m super happy to be able to ride my bike again. I’m taking things slowly and being careful to not push things too hard right now.

It’s a big challenge, since I really want to get training and ready for the upcoming cyclocross season. Yes, the World Championships just happened, but I’ve already got my eyes focused on 2011-2012. I’ve looked at the race calendars, started bugging my coach Steve Weller to let me get training again; I’m thinking sponsorship and all things cyclocross.

If this past season has taught me anything, it has taught me how much I love racing my ’cross bike. I know I have an outstanding season or two left in my legs and heart, and I’m stoked to get out there and race like I know I can. I believe that “everyone has something” and my “something” just happens to be ulcerative colitis – I’m not going to let it slow me down or stop me from chasing my dreams.

And yes, in case you were wondering, I plan to line up at the start line at the 2012 World Cyclocross Championships in Koksijde, Belgium. Looking forward to having you along for the ride.

(To keep up-to-date with my racing, training and thoughts about life on and off the bike, check out my website and follow me on Twitter @vickitopcrosser.)