Soaring in spite of Crohn's
By Rasheed Clarke
At the age of nine, Alyx Treasure struck gold.
Actually, she struck gold five times.
It was 2001, and at the British Columbia Junior Development Championships in Langley, Treasure topped the podium in the 60-metre hurdles, the 100m sprint, the 200m sprint, the long jump, and the high jump. Three years later, she would add to her burgeoning trophy case with another four gold medals at a track meet in Kamloops, setting a record in the high jump for her age group along the way.
The high jump would become Treasure's marquee event, and in 2010, she won the B.C. provincial high school championship in the high jump for the third year in a row, becoming only the second woman in the province to accomplish the feat.
That year, she was also diagnosed with Crohn's disease.
"The disease was a complete surprise to me and my family, because no one else in my family had Crohn's or colitis," says Treasure. "It's horrible when you don't understand why your body isn't functioning properly."
Scholarship offers from Florida State, the University of Southern California, and the University of Idaho were left on the table while Treasure tried to get her health in order.
"I wasn't able to take the scholarships that were offered to me because I didn't have my Crohn's under control. I didn't feel comfortable because I couldn't train properly, and leaving the country wasn't really an option," she says.
Treasure opted to enroll at the University of British Columbia, but once again ran into trouble because of her Crohn's, and was forced to drop out in only her second semester.
"When I was first diagnosed I was pretty stubborn about it. I didn't really understand Crohn's, I just knew I was sick. And coming from an athletics background it's always mind over matter, so I just believed if I thought hard enough that I was a healthy person that I would be a healthy person. I didn't take my medication properly, and that would put me straight into hospital."
Dropping out of UBC sparked Treasure to get serious about caring for her Crohn's, and she stuck to a treatment plan that allowed her to restart her athletics career at Kansas State University.
While double-majoring in Business Entrepreneurship and Marketing at Kansas State, Treasure won the Big 12 indoor high jump title in 2012, took second place at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2014, and became a five-time All-American by her senior year.
She went on to represent Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto where she finished seventh. Then in the spring of 2016, at the Ward Haylett Invitational at Kansas State, she set a new personal best with a jump of 1.93m – exactly the height she needed to clear to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
Qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games brought about excitement, but also some trepidation. Pollution and the Zika virus were concerns for all competitors heading to Brazil, but Treasure faced an additional dimension of risk. She was on a biologic drug to treat her Crohn's disease; a drug that can weaken the immune system. As a result, she could not take any of the active vaccinations recommended for athletes.
"I'm at an extremely high risk of any kind of virus and it is a concern I can't ignore, but it's the Games and you can't miss out on that," she said before leaving for Rio.
She brought her biologic medication with her to Rio, and received an injection one week ahead of her competition.
Performing on the grandest stage of athletics, Treasure advanced to the second round in the women's high jump, clearing the bar at 1.88m on her third attempt. But when the bar was lifted to 1.93m, she was unable to advance further, finishing the competition in 17th place.
Treasure is back at Kansas State, pursuing a Master's degree in business administration and pushing for an even higher personal best. Her treatment has allowed her to overcome the barriers that Crohn's disease has thrown in her way.
"I've seen such an improvement in the way I'm able to recover. I would be able to get through practice, but the problem would be recovery the next day, when everything took a lot more effort on my behalf. Now I can bounce back from workouts and keep pushing every day."
And now that's she's able to keep pushing, Treasure has her sights set on further success in athletics, and on speaking up about Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
"Over the years, my goal originally was just to make the games, but now that I've got my health under control, I'm really excited for my future in track. I feel like there's a lot more that I can accomplish," she says.
"When I was struggling with the disease, and struggling with my performance, I didn't want to paint myself as a victim of the disease, and say ‘this is why I'm doing poorly, this is why I'm not living up to the expectations that people put on me'. Now that I've achieved what I wanted to, I have no problem telling people exactly what I went through."