SAN JOSE — Sharks defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk had no idea what was going on. He couldn’t keep food down and was cramping up on a regular basis. He lost close to 15 pounds and wasn’t his usual, energetic self.
He was concerned this could be something serious.
Trainers were stumped as to what was going on with Pasichnuk, who was otherwise fit. One doctor, though, decided to put Pasichnuk through another test — for celiac disease.
“It was honestly such a relief because I was getting worried, especially with all the tests we were running,” Pasichnuk said. “We couldn’t figure out anything and then I did an endoscopy a couple of weeks ago, and they biopsied the inflammation in my stomach, and it came back as positive for celiac.”
Per celiac.org, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, that person’s individual immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of nutrients into the body.
Per the University of Chicago’s website, the disease affects at least 3 million Americans.
After missing the first few days of training camp, Pasichnuk got back on the ice this week. The time away likely dimmed his chances of making the Sharks’ roster out of camp, but he’s excited about what lies ahead now that he knows what the issue is.
“I’m starting to feel better and better every day,” he said.
Pasichnuk, 23, sat down with reporters earlier this week to discuss what’s he’s been through in recent weeks. Here is a portion of that conversation, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What’s the adjustment been like since you were diagnosed?
A: Honestly, it’s not that bad. I think there are so many good gluten-free options out there. It’s more annoying. You have to read each label before you eat anything, but it’s good.
Q: Did you lose weight?
A: I’ve lost 14 pounds, so I’m 200 pounds right now, which is awesome, gone down like 3 percent in body fat since I gave up gluten. So yeah, it was really messing me up. I just couldn’t absorb any nutrients. It was hard to get out of bed in the morning. That’s how little energy I had.
Q: Your first skate today, how did that feel?
A: Felt good, really good. A hard first full practice back is always a grind. But I’m so happy to be back out there because I didn’t know if I would be with how it was going at the start. I was in pretty rough shape, so I’m grateful, thankful God allowed the doctors to find what was wrong with me.
Q: Do you have an idea if you can play in a preseason game?
A: I think today was a really good indication that I’m right there. Very close to returning for sure.
Q: How did that change your expectations for training camp?
A: I have changed my mentality this year. Last year, I came into camp just putting so much pressure on myself, I wanted to make an NHL roster so bad. I want to play for the Sharks — it’s been a dream of mine forever. Which it (still) is, but this year, I’m coming in, just, let’s just go out there and have fun and work as hard as I possibly can and see what happens after that. That’s when I play my best hockey is when I’m just out there doing what I love to do. That’s why I play this game.
Q: What’s been the hardest thing to give up?
A: My weakness in life has always been bread. I’ll give myself like one cheat meal a week, where I’m allowing myself to have it, and that’s the best day of the week. But I guess we’re going to try gluten-free bread out see how it tastes.
Q: Would you like to gain the weight back?
A: I’d love to say right here. I’ve been working probably three years to get my weight down, and it has stumped a bunch of trainers why I can’t because with the amount of cardio I do in the offseason, I should be 150 pounds. I’ve worked very hard in the offseason, so, finally, we got some answers. That’s another reason why I’m so happy, just because I always knew something was off, just because I could not get my body fat down, and what I did. So it was pretty exciting after not eating gluten for a couple of weeks and checking weight by fat and seeing that.”
Q: Can this benefit you moving forward?
A: I think it’s going to be a great help for me because it just forces me to honestly be healthier. I’m not allowed to eat a lot of stuff now, so I really think it’s just going to help me become a better player.
Q: With the weight loss, is the hope that it’ll make you quicker out there without losing your strength?
A: I was telling my wife the other day. It’s crazy, yeah, I’m not quite up to game speed yet just because I (just had) my first full practice back, but it’s amazing how much different I feel just skating backward 10 to 14 pounds lighter than having those that extra weight on you it’s. It’s incredible and I’m excited to see, once my lungs get back to game shape, see how much it really helps.
Q: What have the Sharks told you about the areas that they feel you need to improve?
A: Losing a little bit of weight was one of my fitness goals. Me and (director of strength and conditioning Mike) Potenza had some meetings over the summer and we decided that I should try and get down to like 205-208. That would be a really good weight because I don’t think he thought I could get lower than that, and I didn’t either. But I think 200 is just going to be an ideal weight because I still have all my strength, especially with lifting — I don’t feel any different there. I’ve been lucky where I’ve had strength, like just kind of god-given strength. So yeah, like I said I’m excited to see how far I can go.