Positive. Humble. Fearless. These three words perfectly describe 24-year-old Hank Lebioda, Web.Com tour professional golf player and Crohn’s Disease patient. When I interviewed him at Golf Fore Guts in Florida, I was so impressed by his outlook on living with a chronic disease. I couldn’t wait to share his story with my readers.
Lebioda was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2012 during his freshman year of college at Florida State University. Like many of us, he didn’t know much about the disease. One thing he did know was that he wanted to play golf.
“I had three and a half years [in college] to test the waters. To see if I can actually play golf at a high enough level and make a living out of it. It was an adjustment,” said Lebioda.
He had a full team of people at the university helping him from a strength coach to a nutritionist. As Lebioda juggled treatment options, he continued traveling to golf tournaments.
“We would travel with a box of Ensure. We would go to restaurants that would be comfortable for me to eat at where I wouldn’t have issues on the course the next day. It even got to the point where I would map out the golf course and see where the closest bathrooms were,” said Lebioda.
We can all relate to this. We’ve all had to make adjustments in our daily lives as we deal with uncomfortable symptoms. As a news anchor, I use commercial breaks to go to the bathroom. I also work to keep my emotions in check. It is easy to get sucked into the competitiveness of my industry, but Crohn’s Disease helps keep me grounded. Lebioda also believes his diagnosis helps keep him humble. He remembers a specific tournament against the University of Florida where he stood out like a sore thumb.
“If you watch college golfers, they will be carrying their own bags. Well, I wasn’t allowed to do that and it was a little bit of an ego shock for me. But I said, ‘This is what I have to do’, and I ended up finishing 12th in my first event after I got back from my diagnosis. My assistant coach walked with me that entire tournament. I had a push cart and made a bathroom stop every 4-5 holes,” said Lebioda. His team ended up winning that event for the first time in 20 years.
After graduating from Florida State University, Lebioda joined the Web.Com Tour where he has been playing now for almost 2 years. He is using his platform to raise awareness about Crohn’s Disease and is now a spokesman for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Lebioda wants to show kids the power of being fearless.
“One thing my dad taught me growing up is that there are two options: You can be part of the solution or part of the problem. Was I going to go, ‘Oh woe is me. No one understands what I am going through. No one else my age is going through this.’ Or, was I going to say, ‘I could bring awareness and show people you don’t have to live within this boundary of Crohn’s. It’s not something that will hold me back,'” said Lebioda.
We all have this choice to make everyday. When we wake up, we have to decide whether Crohn’s Disease is going to defeat us or motivate us to be better. I know it can be hard when we’re going through a flare-up; when the pain takes over and we just want it to all go away; when we think we’ve found the right medicine, but then the symptoms creep back in. I know it’s easy to feel defeated. But everyday we get the chance to fight back. We get the chance to be proactive, do something to help ourselves, and put it all into perspective.
“It’s something I can live through and show people it’s not the end of the world. You can be a high level professional athlete with this disease and it’s not something I am going to be afraid of. It’s possible to live with it and live a great life,” said Lebioda.