Athlete for Awareness Races to Raise Money for Celiac Disease | BeyondCeliac.org
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Athlete for Awareness Races to Raise Money for Celiac Disease

NFCA's Athlete for Awareness Kendra Nielsam, will compete in Ironman competition.

NFCA’s newest Athlete for Awareness, Kendra Nielsam, proves that maintaining endurance is possible, even on a gluten-free diet!

The 30-year-old Californian is set to compete in the grueling Ironman Florida competition this November 7th 2009 in Panama City Beach. Kendra will represent the NFCA during the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2 mile run in an effort to increase awareness of celiac disease and raise money for the organization.

"Because celiac disease can cause so many other problems when left untreated, it's important for people to get diagnosed as soon as possible. It's really important to celiacs to have an organization like the NFCA working hard to achieve these important goals. I'm hoping that by raising money for the NFCA through my Ironman race, I can help NFCA continue to increase awareness," she says.

Kendra will raise funds for NFCA through the Ironman Florida’s Janus Charity Challenge, designed to motivate Ironman athletes to use participation in any of the U.S. full distance Ironman races to increase awareness and raise money for charity. The program is unique in that there is no designated beneficiary – athletes can choose to raise funds for the charity that they are most passionate about.

"I chose to raise funds for the NFCA because I didn't know much about the disease before I was diagnosed. I think raising awareness is the first step in increasing the rate of diagnosis of celiac disease and in improving the quality of life of those who have been diagnosed," she says.

Show your support for Kendra and help raise awareness of celiac disease by donating today! Click here for Information.

Kendra will chronicle her race preparation and experience on NFCA’s Athletes for Awareness blog, and share tips for training on a gluten-free diet. As an Athlete for Awareness, Kendra demonstrates that having celiac disease can’t stop you from competing in the most demanding of sports, and hopes her journey will motivate those in the celiac community to pursue a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle. Follow Kendra as she prepares for the Ironman Florida competition on NFCA’s Athletes for Awareness Blog.

More about NFCA Athlete for Awareness Kendra Nielsam.

Kendra’s come a long way since her doctor told her to go gluten free in February 2009. Prior to being diagnosed, she struggled for years with a variety of symptoms that doctors struggled to pinpoint such as skin rash, unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, and elevated liver enzymes.

“I happened to get allergy shots one day when it (her rash) was really bad, the nurse was able to get me in to see the allergist about it. He thought it might be psoriasis.”

It was Kendra’s primary care physician who was able to diagnose her with the condition, and further genetic testing revealed she possessed the genetic celiac markers. Kendra describes her first months on a gluten-free diet as overwhelming,

"My husband calls me a ‘carb-ivore’. I love cereal, bread, and cookies. It took me about a week to work up the mental strength to start the diet."

Kendra initially found her athletic endeavors and training difficult, and struggled to maintain her strength and endurance on a gluten-free diet.

"I realized that I could no longer eat the sports bars I usually relied on. Nutrition is basically the fourth sport in triathlon, and I had to start from scratch figuring out what gluten free options worked for me."

Kendra experimented with a bevy of gluten-free sports drinks, gels, bars, and mixes to find the best (and most palatable) way to keep her energy up. After a few weeks on the diet she began noticing improvement, and has since flourished in and out of the gym.

"I didn't feel tired all the time anymore. After a month or two of being gluten free, I realized my asthma had really improved too. I was going on long runs without my inhaler. It's not like my asthma has disappeared, but it seems more controlled on a gluten free diet."

You can read Kendra’s entire celiac story by visiting NFCA’s personal stories section.

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