Sidelined by Urticaria: An Athlete’s Story
When you live with urticaria, you do your best to live a normal life. You push through bad days and try not to give up on something because of your disease. Although ‘I can’t because of my urticaria’ should never be in your vocabulary, there are certain things that you do, indeed, have to let go of.
And no, I’m not talking about letting go of a relationship, although that can happen. I’m talking about giving up on sports. For me, it was letting go, or changing the way I play the game I love: soccer.
Love at first kick
Growing up, soccer was one of my favorite sports to play – I can still remember kicking the ball as a kid in my parent’s backyard. Although I was no Beckham, I could play better than most, and managed to land a position on my university team. As luck would have it, I started getting hives once I joined the team.
The hives affected my game big time. In fact, it was a miracle that I even stayed on the team at all. I barely attended any practices or games due to my new found friend, urticaria (of course I didn’t even know it was urticaria at the time). I was covered in hives every two weeks during my first year. No one knew that I was on the team, and it didn't feel like I was a part the team either.
I quickly saw a doctor about my new hives, and she explained that it may be cholinergic urticaria, a type of urticaria that is thought to be triggered by sweating.1 She also told me that I would need to stop over-exerting myself with soccer, and that I would have to chose a life free of intense sports. I remember my mom looking at me with empathy, because she knew how much soccer meant to me. She knew I was suffering physically and mentally with this disease – I didn’t know what to do.
So, my choices were:
Option 1: Continue to play the sport that I love, and continue to exacerbate a crippling skin disease that I barely knew anything about (which, for all I knew, could have serious consequences).
Option 2: Stop playing soccer knowing my hives may not stop.
I went with option 2. Quitting soccer was the only logical thing to do, because it made no sense to me to play my heart out, and then be bedridden for the next week due to hives. I quit soccer halfway through the second season, with no explanation to my friends, teammates and coach.
Putting back on the cleats
After five years and a few good words of encouragement from my family, I started playing recreational soccer. I would get so excited to play, and often, a little too excited. I would exert myself as if I were a gladiator, even though I was only playing with middle-aged men who liked to kick the ball around once in a while. This overexertion would consequently lead to a breakout.
So now I’m a little older and wiser, and I know not to go play like Ronaldo. I play a few minutes at a time, and then get off the field so that my body does not get too worked up. I’ve realized that after so many times of regulating my performance, I’ve found an approximate amount of how much I can push myself without getting a breakout. I even keep a heart monitor on me, as well as a timer (I’d recommend looking into this).
I think the big takeaway is to find the balance between healthy exercise and overexertion. Not to mention, I think I enjoy cheering on my teammates from the sidelines more than ever – I don’t have to do any work and still get credit when we win!
Although it is tough to remember what I was once capable of, I don’t let it bother me. I consider myself lucky that I still get to step foot onto a field, even if it’s only for a few minutes.