No one defies stereotypes about people who have chronic disease quite like Seattle Reign FC defender Yael Averbuch. Currently in her tenth season as a professional soccer player, Averbuch has played throughout the U.S. and around the world and written about her experiences for the New York Times. Looking through her list of awards and accolades (including two NCAA National Championships), you would never know she is also among the estimated 3 million U.S. adults battling inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Averbuch was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) in 2012. UC causes inflammation and ulcers in the colon, which lead to symptoms such as debilitating abdominal pain, frequent bloody diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss.
Averbuch doesn’t have symptoms all the time but instead gets flare-ups that can be unpredictable. After her first flare-up in 2012, she went into remission and was symptom free for several years. Then, last season, she suddenly got the worst flare-up she’s ever had.
Talking with her for the first time, I was struck by how positive and open she is. She shares her experiences with the disease in a conversational, matter-of-fact way on her blog, and if you look through the comments there and on her social media you’ll see countless messages from fans who also have IBD and are grateful that she gives voice to a subject most shy away from.
Despite her positivity, Averbuch’s journey with UC has not been an easy one. Playing through her bad flare-up last season took a toll on her body, forcing her to take a break so she can heal.
I spoke with her about her recovery, how she gets through her worst days, and how she balances her career and her health.