Now that she has discovered it was celiac disease that was slowing her down, Burns Lake biathlete Emily Dickson has returned to the international racing scene, where she hopes to make a dent in the competition next season.
Ted Clarke, Prince George Citizen 1
Now that she knows why she was feeling chronic fatigue, not responding to the intense workouts of a world-calibre biathlete, Emily Dickson’s torment has begun to fade from memory.
Diagnosed with celiac disease in September 2016, it’s taken Dickson that long to rid her body of all traces of gluten, the demon inside that was robbing her of her strength and endurance and the cause of her mental anguish as she fell from her perch as one of Canada’s most promising young biathletes.
“It has been a tough year and it kind of sucks because it’s been a few bad seasons, one on top of the other,” said the 20-year-old native of Burns Lake. “It was a lot of fatigue, I just felt tired in training all the time and I wasn’t responding to my training and I wasn’t recovering well and I had a few things going on, but nothing that pointed to celiac.
“Once we figured out it was celiac and we looked at all the symptoms it all made sense. Even though, my body has still not recovered and that makes it tough to be out there racing, giving it everything I have knowing I’m still not where I need to be. But every day I’m getting better and that was evident in my last tour. It will still be another few months before I’m fully healthy again.”
- Prompted by her older sister Kate’s positive test for celiac, a hereditary affliction, Dickson was tested shortly after and that provided her revelation.
“I’ve always carried the gene but they say sometimes it doesn’t kick in until your teens and I kind of pinpointed it back to when I really started taking the training to the next level when I moved to Prince George,” Dickson said. “Even in 2015, there were signs of it, that I was feeling quite tired. Canada Games was awesome but I remember getting to nationals feeling totally drained and I had no idea why. I’m feeling so much more energetic now.”
“Emily is a very solid shooter and a good athlete and I was very happy she was able to put some good races together,” said coach, Kathy Davies. “It’s a tough field at the world youth/juniors. I was very proud of her that she could pull off those results because her body has been battling the training load and trying to deal with celiac and I don’t think it’s still come to a stable point. She’s not quite at her best and I was really happy she was able to ski as well as she did.”
Celiac disease is an allergic immune response to gluten grains – wheat, barley and rye – and when triggered it attacks the small intestine, which prevents the absorption of some nutrients, resulting in fatigue, weight loss, anemia, bloating and diarrhea. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, constipation and vomiting.
Davies said the fact Dickson is a high-level athlete used to pushing herself so hard in an aerobic sport which taxes the physical limits of her body has added to the time it’s taken to return to a normal state, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Dickson’s dedication to becoming a better athlete 24 hours a day and her attention to detail shows in her marksmanship and speed on the range and Davies predicts her ski times will continue to fall as her body rids itself totally of gluten.
“She’s asking her body to do a lot from the demands of training and that’s taking longer than if you were a lay person not doing so much activity,” said Davies. “She’s really pushed through this and I’m really happy to see she’s turned the corner. She been such a fighter because she’s used to being able to put the gas pedal down and have the body respond and go crazy because she had such good results as a younger athlete.”