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Bo Parrish 2012

Great Comebacks® Award Recipient - United States

On March 30, 2006, Bo Parrish was faced with a decision that he never thought he would have to make. He chose life!


At 12 years old, Bo was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. For the next 13 years, he fought the disease, and a vicious cycle of flare ups and remission, with everything he had. Surgery was recommended on more than one occasion, but he resisted – horrified by the prospect of living with a “bag.”

“I just kept telling myself that any amount of pain, diarrhea and fever was better than living as a freak. Looking back, I can see that my pride kept me from making the wise decision,” he said.

“The very thing I feared most became a reality.”

He fought on, until the day his body shut down. He was traveling with a friend in Canada when the pain grew severe. He felt his stomach distending, before slipping into a coma and being rushed to the emergency room.

Then, he said, “The very thing I feared most became a reality.”

After three weeks in the ICU and another month, Bo was finally allowed to return to Nashville in the summer of 2006. Left with a “gaping hole” in the middle of his body, he was extremely weak as his long recovery began.

“Back home, I met an incredible WOC Nurse who introduced me to my new life as an ostomate,” said Bo. “During that first week, I received an outpouring of love from family and friends that was nothing short of overwhelming. It was one of those friends that I have to thank for my new found passion – triathlon!”

His friend, who dropped by the house one day, had just competed in a triathlon. The more his friend described the experience, the more interested Bo became. He’d done a bit of cycling and running and swimming in the past, but had never been an endurance athlete.

He shared the idea with his nurse, who assured him that having an ileostomy would not prevent him from pursuing it. His surgeon, a former athlete, also offered his full support. With encouragement from his parents, both former marathon runners, Bo plotted his journey toward competing in a triathlon before the end of the year.

Once Bo could walk, he started to bike. Once he could bike, he started to swim. Less than five months after his surgery, Bo stood on the starting line of his first triathlon feeling strong and confident.

“It was time to ‘toe the line’ and see what my new body could really do,” he said. “That morning surrounded by other ‘healthy’ athletes was the beginning of something that has single-handedly redirected the purpose for my existence!”

“Had I known that life could be so sweet on the other side of ostomy surgery, I would have voluntarily walked into the operating room."

When the gun blasted, Bo never looked up and finished first in his division that day.

Over the past six years, Bo has competed in more than 100 events on three continents, including 4 full Ironman distance races and three Half Ironman World Championships. He was selected as a member of the Timex Multisport Team. As one of 50 professional and amateur athletes representing 10 different countries, Bo has competed in events all across the U.S. – from Lake Stevens, WA to Orlando, FL through Lubbock, TX and Cambridge, MA.

Living his dream, Bo married a beautiful, multi-talented sport nutritionist who supports his athletic endeavors.

“Fear and faith cannot co-exist in our minds.”

Through the Great Comebacks® Program, Bo is committed to helping others facing health situations similar to his.

“Had I known that life could be so sweet on the other side of ostomy surgery, I would have voluntarily walked into the operating room,” said Bo. “My recovery has been so rewarding but it was incredibly scary to start.”

In the six years since his surgery, Bo said he has learned that “fear and faith cannot co-exist in our minds.”

He added, “We fear the unknown because it's easy to do so. Most of us resist change because we are unsure of the outcomes. Faith, on the other hand is hard... because we have to surrender ourselves completely. There is no such thing as partial surrender, we have to let go and have faith!”

Bo, 33, and his wife Mari-etta live in Nashville, where they are active in their local church and other local non-profit causes.

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