Meet Sarah Russell

"Only if you have been in the deepest valley can you truly appreciate the magnificence of the highest mountain." 

Health has always been a priority for me and my family. I've worked in the fitness industry as a coach and trainer for 25 years and competed at an International level in both rowing and triathlon. I've always been a competitive marathon runner, enjoying the outdoors, mountain biking, trail running and hiking. And I work for ConvaTec as a Wellbeing Advocate.

So in 2010, it was a huge shock when I needed emergency ileostomy surgery to treat life-threatening peritonitis. Even worse, the surgery didn’t go as planned, and I underwent five more operations over the next two years to treat various complications. I actually had reversal surgery but it was unsuccessful. I literally begged my surgeon to put my stoma back. Today, I have my ileostomy back, along with my quality of life. I'm healthy, fit, happy, able to eat normally and can run up mountains again.

It’s more about figuring out how to work around a problem rather than using my stoma as an excuse.

Through it all, I tried to see my stoma as a challenge to overcome rather than a barrier to prevent me from doing things. It’s more about figuring out how to work around a problem rather than using my stoma as an excuse. It's not always easy, but having this conscious attitude has really helped me cope.  

People ask if what I’ve gone through has changed me. In some ways, it’s changed me for the better; I have more perspective and I’m actually grateful for my experience and what it’s taught me. After five abdominal surgeries and a low point where I thought I might never eat again, the simple pleasures in life – such as going for a run or hiking a mountain with my family – are treasured, not taken for granted. I appreciate every step I take. 

In 2014, I became the first person with an ileostomy to run the Himalayan 100 – a five-day, hundred-mile stage race at altitude in the Indian Himalaya. And it was breathtaking. I got to witness the stunning sight of Mt. Everest at dawn, with the first glimmers of light shining on the world’s highest peak. And when I came home, I felt invincible. I thought, "If I can do that and survive, then I can do anything." It was incredibly empowering to prove to myself that having a stoma really doesn’t have to limit your life in any way.

Richard Nixon once said, ‘Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you truly appreciate the magnificence of the highest mountain’. I often wonder if I’d enjoy the mountains so much if I’d not experienced the ‘deepest valley.' Adversity teaches us so much. It makes us stronger and shouldn’t be feared. For me, my stoma is simply a challenge to overcome – much like a marathon or any other race. It’s not a barrier, nor is it a disability. I’m not about to let it stop me doing anything.

Today, I'm a typical working mum. I live in the UK with my husband John, our two Labradors, and our teenage sons, Eddie and Charlie.





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