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Linda Villumsen - World Champion Cyclist

Linda Villumsen is a Danish-born road racing cyclist who became a New Zealand citizen in 2009.  At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing she finished 5th in the women's road race. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London she finished 18th in the road race and fourth in the time trial, missing out on a medal by less than two seconds. Villumsen won a gold medal in the Individual Road Cycling Time Trial at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. In 2015 she won the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships. In 2016 she was nominated for a Halberg Award and was a finalist for High Performance Sport New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year.

I grew up in Denmark and for as long as I can remember I’ve always had health problems. If I ate breakfast then I’d have to vomit on the way to school. In Denmark we typically eat potatoes for dinner so my routine was to avoid eating breakfast then hold on until dinner. I got regular skin problems and every month there seemed to be something else I might be allergic to. It was just a constant battle which was very frustrating for my mother and no doctor ever suggested a test for coeliac disease. When I became a professional athlete my health problems worsened. The more I trained, the more I needed to eat, and the more symptoms I had. Our cycling team would eat pasta three hours before a race, which made me feel dreadful. In 2005 I told the team doctor something wasn’t right. He suggested I try eating more rice and less pasta. Five years later another doctor suggested a gut biopsy which is when I was finally diagnosed with coeliac disease.

THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE

Finding out was the best thing ever. It was such a relief to know what was wrong. One of the best things I did after diagnosis was a one year paper on nutrition at Massey University. Before doing the course, I didn’t know anything about where food came from, what was gluten free or not, what was good or bad. I feel more confident now I know what I’m putting into my body. Vitamins are very important for coeliacs which is why I think it’s good to have a blood test once in a while, to find out if something is low. Before I was diagnosed I had very low iron but it’s been no problem since. When I was first diagnosed it was scary to be told I’d have to eat differently, for every meal, for the rest of my life. At first, it felt as if I couldn’t do anything, but the more I’ve learnt, the more I’ve realised there are so many products that don’t say gluten free, that are gluten free.


I’m very careful with what I eat and the only problems I’ve experienced in the past few years were due to cross contamination of a food that was supposed to be gluten free. In general, I am so much happier. It was great to know that my symptoms weren’t something I’d made up in my mind, to find out a reason for my health problems, and most importantly to know that I can fix it. I don’t like the term ‘coeliac disease’ as I don’t believe I am sick in any way. So I never say “I have coeliac disease”; I tell people “I’m coeliac — I can’t eat that”. I’m not different from anyone else, I just have to eat different things.

Read the full story in the Autumn 2016 Issue of Coeliac Link.