As a professional wrestler, Chris Manns is a tower of strength to crowds of screaming fans and a wall of muscle to his opponents.
Known as the Fearless Flatliner in his working life, Chris is also happy clowning around – being thrown about the ring by team-mates much smaller than himself and reducing spectators to tears of laughter.
But behind the brawn and bravado and away from the ‘violent pantomime’ of the wrestling world, this muscle man has battled serious illness, frailty and depression.
The 35-year-old powerhouse performer has suffered from ulcerative colitis since he was 15.
In the past few years, the condition affecting the colon has seen the 6ft 2in, 21-stone Stokes Bay wrestler lose nine stone and spend months in hospital.
He has had multiple operations, needed a wheelchair and lost strength, energy and hope as his health problems almost put paid to his career.
Having battled back and now fighting fit, Chris is ready to tell his story and maybe help others coping with the condition.
‘For a long time a lot of people didn’t realise,’ he says. ‘I was a wrestler, I had 21-inch arms, people didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. But my body was a bit like a Rolls Royce with a Skoda engine and things were getting worse.’
Ulcerative colitis is a long-term condition which causes inflammation and infection in the colon.
It can be an extremely debilitating disease with symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal pain, a frequent need to go the toilet, fatigue and weight loss.
High-profile names in the sports world have also recently revealed they have the condition.
Manchester United player Darren Fletcher has joined forces with former England rugby captain and fellow sufferer Lewis Moody to raise awareness.
Chris’s problems began when he was just 15 and escalated until he needed his colon removed and faced several years with an ileostomy bag (similar to a colostomy bag).
He says: ‘It doesn’t get that far for everyone. I was pretty much the worst case scenario.
‘At one point in hospital, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought I looked like an AIDS victim.
‘It was tough because you have to remember that my body was my business and my living.’
Chris’s problems and his love of wrestling both began when he was a youngster. Like many lads he watched the likes of Big Daddy on telly and then becoming hooked on the dramas of the WWE stars.
At 15 he was diagnosed with colitis. ‘I was at school and I needed to go to the bathroom a lot. And I’d have a couple of minutes to get there. When you’re that age, you’re really self- conscious.’
The teenager was already into bodybuilding and when a chance came along to start wrestling, he wasn’t going to let colitis stop him.
He believes his healthy diet helped and he just had to be careful when he suffered from flare-ups, occasionally cancelling matches.
Although he does remember one awkward show in a clubhouse.
‘I literally rolled out the ring, high-fived the kids as I was running out and then realised there was no toilet.
‘I had to run outside and drop my Lycra,’ he says laughing (Flatliner’s retained a great sense of humour).
But this frightening condition is no joke. His life improved with medication in his 20s, but then he started having bad reactions and his immune system became weak.
Chris ended up in intensive care with pneumonia, suffered infections and complications and eventually learned he would need the operation to have his colon removed.
As weak and ill as he was, his first thought was for his wrestling career which had seen him appearing on telly and living his boyhood dream.
‘It’s violent pantomime really,’ he says of the controlled shows. ‘It’s great when you get the audience and melt them into their seats and they’re smiling, laughing, going mad when someone’s stamping on your head. It’s an incredible buzz.’
After his operation Chris was told he would never wrestle again and that hit harder than any body slam.
‘I thought my career was over. You’ve had 2,000 people chanting your name, everyone knows you for that. It was hard. I hadn’t had kids, I’d just been this sort of Peter Pan living my dream and it was over.’
He also found living with an ileostomy bag tough, avoiding female company and going out less and less.
Chris was a waiter and tried to go back to work but was worried people would see the shape of the bag.
‘What do you say? “It’s a bag of **** madam, how’s your clam chowder?’’’
Since then Chris has had a reversal operation and no longer needs the bag. He says he’s ‘extremely grateful’ that this procedure is available.
He urges others with colitis, or who have a bag, to get all the advice they can and pay attention to diet. ‘It makes a huge difference with colitis. You need to eat as naturally as possible if you want to live as full a life as possible.’
Chris is now doing just that. He defied doctors’ expectations. going back to training at Xtreme Physiques gym in Gosport, and says it’s ‘awesome’ to now be back in the ring.
He says: ‘I have to tell people to be careful around my stomach, but being back is unbelievable. There’s no potion on the planet better for me than this.
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
are the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
People with the conditions usually have periods of good health and then suffer relapses or ‘flare-ups’.
As well as diarrhoea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite, symptoms can include abscesses (Chrohn’s), swollen joints, mouth ulcers and eye problems.
Anyone can develop IBD and at least 261,000 people are affected by ulcerative colitis (146,000) and Crohn’s disease (115,000) in the UK, although recently published data suggest that this could be as many as 620,000.
It’s not clear what causes the conditions but experts believe it could be a combination of factors including genes and an abnormal reaction to bacteria.
There are many ways to manage symptoms and make life a little easier.
For information and advice go to the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK, crohnsandcolitis.org.uk or call 0845 130 2233.