UW gymnast battles two chronic diseases to compete

SEATTLE -- University of Washington gymnast Kylie Sharp is strong, graceful and unflappable on the balance beam Looking from the outside, she's the epitome of health. But on the inside, Sharp is dealing with serious issues.

"Honestly, I just try not to think about it," she said. "I just go about my day regular like a regular kid."

Sharp has two chronic liver diseases: autoimmune hepatitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis -- better known as PSC. The diseases cause severe inflammation of her liver, which affects her everyday life and her gymnastics. She's the only known college athlete competing with overlapping liver diseases.

"There are worse days than others," said Sharp. "I get tired, lots of headaches and super shaky, which makes things hard on beam."

To help manage her conditions, Sharp takes a high-dose anti-inflammatory called prednisone.

"The prednisone isn't my favorite thing to take," admits Sharp. "I tried to get off it a little bit ago, but that wasn't happening."

The medication causes problems of its own. Its side effects weaken bones, cramp muscles, and even led to Sharp partially tearing her patellar tendon in the fall.

"We tend to use this pain scale on a daily basis," said University of Washington athletic trainer Cristina Getto. "Zero to 10, 10 meaning the worst. I asked her what she is feeling every day. How bad do you really feel overall? She said an eight. To live at an eight on a daily basis is hard."

When you think it can't get any worse for Sharp -- it does. She underwent an endoscopic procedure to clear her bile ducts in January. It was another issue brought on by her diseases. The procedure has left Sharp on the sidelines most of her senior season.

It doesn't end here for Sharp either. She needs a liver transplant in the future.

"I don't know if too many other people can do what she's done," said Washington head coach Joanne Bowers. "She didn't travel with us to one meet, because she just had this procedure. And, it was like this big hole of our team. Somebody was missing that we really, really needed with us."

Sharp is back in practice, but she hasn't competed in a meet for months. It's her goal to get back in action before the end of the year. The Huskies wrap up the regular season on Friday. It's Senior Night, so she's hoping to make her triumphant return then.

Sharp's body constantly tells her no, but her heart and her mind fight right back.

"I think you shouldn't hold back on anything that you want to do in life," said Sharp. "If you want to do it, go for it. There are going to be obstacles for everybody. But, if it's your dream, go big for it."

Sharp could have quit a long time ago, but that word - quit - isn't in her vocabulary. She knows grit, determination and passion though.

If you're looking for Kylie Sharp you'll find her fighting the odds on the beam and off it.