People who are unfamiliar with celiac disease may think we active celiacs aren’t quite up to the challenge that other athletes are. Football, golf, tennis, running—all of these take major skill and athleticism in their own way. But once someone with undiagnosed celiac gets the correct diagnosis – it’s life changing – even for an athlete.

If you doubt me—take a look at some of these examples:

College Success

This week the Dallas Morning News profiled the second-string quarterback at the University of North Texas. Nathan Tune got on the team as a walk-on three years ago and has been a on the bench ever since. His college coach is proud of him for his patience and sticking it out with UNT, saying he could have given up.

“Tune had an excuse to give up football in celiac disease,” the article says. “The disease forced him to give up sandwiches, pasta and fast food last year.

He stuck with it, though, and after adapting to the condition, he moved up the depth chart to become UNT’s backup quarterback.” – Dallas Morning News

Because of a recent injury to the starting quarterback, Tune was able to start against one of the top college teams: Alabama on Saturday.*

Celiac in the LPGA

Sarah-Jane Kenyon of Queensland Australia improved significantly having her best season in 2008 since being a rookie on the LPGA tour. The reason? A diagnosis of celiac disease and complete change to the gluten-free diet. Kenyon says she was diagnosed after doctors discovered her mother had it.

“Fortunately, the dietary change has contributed to her success on the course, which has included two runner-up finishes on the 2008 Duramed FUTURES Tour.” LPGA.com

In an interview with the website, she explained her diet and what she eats when golfing.

“I cut out bread and pasta and it’s really helped. I feel better on the course and the new diet has given me more energy. It requires a lot of planning, though. You can’t just grab a sandwich when you go out on the course. Now, I eat a lot of gluten-free energy bars, fruits and nuts, and rice cakes with wheat-free peanut butter.” –Sarah-Jane Kenyon interview with LPGA.com

She is also a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. She did a public service announcement this spring explaining celiac disease as well.

Research about athletes and celiac disease

A case report published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2005 looked at the case of a college tennis player who was diagnosed with celiac disease. She suddenly began having symptoms and blood and food allergy tests were conducted and doctors gave her a celiac diagnosis.

The case report conclusion,

“A properly educated sports medicine staff can help to identify symptoms consistent with celiac disease early, so damage to the intestine is minimized. Prompt recognition and appropriate management allow the athlete to adjust the diet accordingly, compete at a high-caliber level, and enjoy a healthier quality of life.” — Journal of Athletic Training

Here you go—proof that a celiac diagnosis is so life-changing for the patient (athlete in this case). Giving up gluten may really be frustrating, at least at first, but the athlete will feel better and have a better performance in the field or on the court.

*Note: Alabama beat UNT 53 to 7 on Saturday

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