Eighteen-year-old surfing sensation Chelsea Tuach is used to being hit hard by the waves she dominates in almost every competition she enters locally and internationally. But she wasn’t prepared for the massive “wave” that came up behind her unexpectedly and knocked her off her feet earlier this month – Chikungunya.
The surfing champ recalls waking up on the morning of Sunday, October 5, not feeling quite like herself. She struggled to get out of bed as a result of intense muscle pain in her shoulders and chest.
Initially, she thought she was just sore from surfing hard the previous day. However, as the hours wore on, she realized it wasn’t from her usual grind at the beach.
“ . . . My energy level was also very low and that afternoon, I came down with a fever. I didn’t have the energy to go to the doctor yet, so I called my doctor and explained my symptoms and he said [they] sounded like Chikungunya and that I should rest and sip energy drinks throughout the day to replenish my electrolytes,” Chelsea recounted.
Chikungunya is a viral disease which, like dengue fever, is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms usually manifest within three to five days of being bitten. They include a sudden high fever; severe headaches; pain behind the eyes; muscle pain; stiff and painful joints, especially in the wrists, knuckles and ankles; loss of appetite; a measles-like rash on the chest and upper limbs, as well as nausea and vomiting.
The usually high-octane young lady, who has numerous surfing titles under her belt, could hardly move.
It wasn’t long before other family members started coming down with similar symptoms. Her dad and brother also contracted the illness, which is rapidly making its way through the local population.
Chelsea’s doctor prescribed Codomol, a painkiller, for the fever and muscle aches. But the relief was only temporary.
“I would feel better within 15 minutes of taking it, but [the effects] would wear off every six hours. I kept taking the medication for two days and my fever went down. On the third day, my temperature was down but my muscles were very sore and I still had no energy at all. By Wednesday, I felt more like myself but I felt itchy all over. I almost went mad!” she said.
Being the trooper that she is, Chelsea tried to get back on the surfboard to see if it would help her feel any better. It didn’t. She was just too weak.
If she thought the worst had passed, she was wrong. By the Thursday of that week, her lymph nodes were swollen. She loaded up on vitamin C in an effort to boost her immune system’s ability to fight off the virus. Determined not to let Chikungunya get the best of her, Chelsea tried to go surfing once more.
“I almost felt like myself again,” she told Barbados TODAY. “But by Friday morning, I broke out in this awful rash all over my body. It didn’t hurt nor was it itchy but it was everywhere. That day, I felt a little faint if I stood up too long so I just kept resting and drinking energy drinks,” Chelsea disclosed.
She continued: “By Saturday, I felt like I had gotten over the worst [of it]. The rash was going down, I had joint pain but it wasn’t affecting me too much and my energy level was at 50 per cent. By Sunday, (during the 2014 National Surfing Championships) I was feeling [better] and the joint pain was minor. I surfed in the morning and the waves were perfect so I had some extra motivation to put mind over matter and will myself to feel better. But I was exhausted in my heats. As a competitive surfer, it’s my nature to go hard in heats but my body wasn’t ready and it was definitely a challenge.”
It is amazing that although Chelsea was not feeling her best, she still managed to compete and win the women’s event in the National Surfing Championships. Chikungunya had stolen her energy but not her inimitable spirit.
She admitted that by the end of the competition, she was completely “spent”.
The most difficult part of having the virus was being sapped of energy and confined to her bed.
Chelsea had never gone up against an opponent as formidable as Chikungunya. As a young athlete, she is usually able to overcome illness pretty quickly but not with CHIKV as it is sometimes called. It took “a long time” for her to regain her normal energy level even after the fever and muscle aches had subsided.
In retrospect, Chelsea admitted that her suffering could’ve been avoided altogether if she had just worn mosquito repellent. Since her ordeal, she doesn’t leave home without it. And she advises Barbadians and visitors alike to follow suit.
While she’s almost back to herself, she is still plagued by minor pain in her wrists and ankles. One of the after effects of the illness is long-term joint pain. However, Chelsea doesn’t think her case is severe enough to affect her surfing.
Fresh off her win in the National Surfing Championships, she headed off to Brazil for the ASP 5-Star WQS (World Qualifying Series) Women’s Event. She will then fly to Portugal for the ASP World Junior Championships in which she placed third last year.
“This year, I’m hoping I can take the world junior title,” she stated, quite confidently.