Mollie Jepsen has been skiing since she was two years old. Growing up in West Vancouver, she often headed to the ski hills for fun. And while she tried her hand at other sports, she found there was nothing quite like the rush of adrenaline when racing down a snow-covered mountain or the satisfaction of achieving small goals that make you a better skier.
“When you’re skiing, you go as fast as you can. There’s something about being in control but almost not being in control. I love that part of it.”
In 2016, the West Vancouverite joined the Canadian Paralympic Team as an alpine skier. As she continued to compete, she racked up an impressive record of wins.
Two years later, at her first Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Mollie took home four medals—including a gold—one of her proudest accomplishments so far.
However, off the track, the then-19-year-old was beginning to notice something wrong. While preparing for the competition in March, she began to experience out-of-control bowel movements.
“I got quite sick before the Games in Korea,” Mollie explained. “I initially assumed it was because I was in a different country and wasn’t adjusting well.”
Still, Mollie persevered. With these four medals under her belt, she was more motivated than ever to push her limits and continue improving her skills.
The turning point arrived in August 2018, when Mollie was in South America for a training camp. She was experiencing 10-12 bowel movements a day along with severe stomach pain and cramps.
Eventually, it all became too much. Less than 24 hours after returning to Canada, Mollie was rushed to the hospital.
“We’re leaning toward Crohn’s or colitis.”
When Mollie heard those words from the emergency doctor, she broke down. “I was super emotional,” she said. “It was really tough.”
Initially, she was skeptical of how it was going to work. Her cousin had also been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 12. She had seen the toll it had taken on him. Would she still be able to pursue her dream?
But day by day, Mollie’s Crohn’s started to become more manageable. She tried to change her mentality, looking forward instead of dwelling in the present.
Her cousin became a rich source of information. “There are so many things you don’t know,” said Mollie. “I was actively asking questions. It’s reassuring to have someone to tell you that [what you’re going through] is normal.”
Mollie learned how to adapt to her body’s needs. She realized she wasn’t healthy enough to immediately return to training.
“I was in and out of the hospital for eight weeks and lost a lot of strength,” she said. “I can’t ski to the same ability—it’s not safe to push my body the same way as before.”
Despite this, Mollie continues to strive toward her goals. She believes in dedication, effort, and perseverance—but within limits: “you have to figure out a way to continue to work hard without overwhelming yourself.”
To manage her inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Mollie tries to stay on top of her diet. Currently, she is experimenting with more high-fibre foods to see how her body reacts.
Stress also has a huge influence on Mollie’s health. “It’s an all-consuming kind of thing. I have bad days and good days. You hit low points, and it can feel like a bit of a black hole sometimes.”
Certain tactics help her overcome the negativity. Mollie enjoys going to the gym, napping, being outside, or doing something to clear her head. Speaking to someone she trusts always helps.
“Sometimes you don’t understand what you’re going through, so you don’t know how to respond,” Mollie recommends. “Utilize all the different things you have. Talk to people you love and psychologists to help you understand what you’re going through.”
Thanks to the support she’s received from her family, teammates, healthcare team, and friends, Mollie is set to pursue her long-term goals. She is now training for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games and pursuing an arts and science degree at Quest University, with hopes of going into physiotherapy afterward.
When asked what advice she has for newly diagnosed IBD patients, Mollie said: “Be patient. It will be manageable; you must give your body time to recover and heal.”
She acknowledges it can be scary, but it is important to remember that you still have control. Learn what helps you feel better, and use those strategies to stay afloat. Understand that strange symptoms might actually be linked to your IBD, so voice your opinion and every single feeling with your doctor. Most importantly, never stop learning.
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