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ARTICLES > LIFE STORIES

ANGUS HANRAHAN’S WINNING TACTICS

Aspiring AFL player Angus Hanrahan received a life-changing coeliac disease diagnosis a week from the draft but met the challenges head on.

By Sarah Thomas
gluten-free-athlete and AFL player Angus Hanrahan

When Angus Hanrahan was 17, he faced one of the biggest weeks of his life. AFL clubs had been regularly coming to his house to target him, but this talented young prospect felt his game was deteriorating. He was sluggish and tired, then, on one of the last game days of the year, he couldn’t get out of bed.  

“I was so sick. I’ve never felt like that in my life, still to this day. I was vomiting everywhere,” he says.

A blood test and gastroscopy found the issue: coeliac disease. All that pre-game loading of pizza and pasta hadn’t helped. 

Just days after the diagnosis, Angus was one of 68 players in front of AFL recruiters for the draft, all of whom had access to his updated medical history.  

“All the clubs that I had interviewed with throughout the year, they were just firing questions about coeliac disease at me. ‘Do you have anaemia? Are you deficient in this and that?’ 

“I was just so uneducated. I’d been told by the GP to ‘stick to a gluten-free diet and off you go,’ but it’s so much more than that. There’s so many other health implications. I panicked because I didn’t know what to say. It was confronting.”

LOWS AND HIGHS

He missed out on the draft, with one of the recruiters telling him that there were concerns about his coeliac disease. “It was devastating,” he says. “That was a moment where it really stung.” 

But now, at age 22, he has transformed his life and diet to the point where he’s achieved a couple of seasons with Port Melbourne and is focusing on a different goal: helping other gluten-free athletes and sports lovers. 

 Having struggled to find information and support when newly diagnosed, he’s created The Gluten-Free Athlete, a website, Facebook and Instagram platform with tips, information and other gluten-free sportspeople sharing their experiences. 

Raising awareness is key, Angus says. He initially didn’t even want to go out with mates because he felt self-conscious about not having a beer or worried that ordering food would be complicated. But he turned it around. 

 

MINDSET MATTERS

“The best thing for me was educating my mates and family that it’s not a diet fad but a serious medical condition. You don’t choose to have coeliac disease,” he says. “Once that sank in for me, I embraced it. I love building awareness. Now if I go out, I don’t care if I spend five minutes talking to the waiter about the kitchen standards.

“It was so devastating at first. In my first few years, I was so focused on the problem and thinking, ‘Oh no, I’ve got coeliac disease,’ and that really didn’t help. But I shifted my focus towards being a part of the solution, and that completely changed everything for me.”  

Connecting with others helps spread positivity, he says. “I had someone from the UK saying she just got diagnosed and felt really overwhelmed and my Facebook page has helped her so much, especially with her aspirations in sport. 

“I want to encourage people to embrace being gluten free, rather than feeling it weighs them down. I want to encourage people to reach out – there’s so many resources that can help.” 

GLUTEN-FREE FUEL

Power up with these excellent pre-workout snacks.  

  • Banana with almond butter
  • Gluten-free toast with avocado
  • Greek yoghurt with berries
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter
  • A smoothie bowl made with milk, fruit and nuts 

TAKE CONTROL

Building strategies around eating helps you take back the power and avoid problems and worries. 

  1. Make a structured eating plan and stick to it. That way you don’t spend precious time thinking about what to eat, because it’s already sorted. 
  1. Seek advice from a dietitian. 
  1. Get regularly tested to keep on top of health markers like iron and vitamin D levels, and bone health. 
  1. Hunt out gluten-free Facebook groups, which can be a valuable source of support, information and community.
  1. Take extra care before training or a big game to ensure an accidental glutening incident doesn’t impact your performance.

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