Hidden Jewel: How One Person With Rheumatoid Arthritis Found Her Passion

A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis proved that when the going gets tough, the tough get crafty. Personal trainer Elizabeth Wald shares her story.

Judi Ketteler
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As a personal trainer, Elizabeth Wald knew all about how to modify exercises for specific clients. So, after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 2000, she did the same for herself. When her wrists hurt too much, for example, she switched from regular to knuckle push-ups. She also persisted with her personal training. “I didn’t want to let RA control me,” Elizabeth says.

However, the pain grew worse and she had problems finding a medication that worked. She tried to deny the effect RA was having on her livelihood, but eventually, the pain and loss of mobility made it impossible to work with clients the way she wanted. While she knew she’d never relinquish her active lifestyle, Elizabeth realized that she would need to make a career switch.

Now 47, Elizabeth had always been artistic; she was trained as a classical violinist. But she hadn’t focused much on cultivating her creative side during her years in both corporate America and the fitness industry. “When I had to stay home because I was in too much pain, that’s when I started listening to my creative side again,” she says.

An aha moment
Three years ago, while on vacation in Maine with her husband, Halvard, and then-12-year-old daughter, Emma, Elizabeth flipped open a jewelry magazine and was mesmerized. It was the perfect “aha moment”: She knew that making jewelry was exactly what she wanted to do. “I became obsessed with jewelry making,” she says. “I took private classes first, and then I decided to launch my own business.”

Her business, Stones in Harmony (stonesinharmony.com), got off the ground a year later. Today, Elizabeth is happier and more satisfied than she ever has been, working from her home in Port Chester, NY. Jewelry making is hand-intensive work, of course, but she has found a way to make the tools work for her and take the pressure off her swollen joints. “Of course, there are days when I’m still crying from the pain and I want to give up. But it’s short-lived,” she says. “The next day, I’m excited and enthusiastic again.”

Custom jewelry designs are her passion. But these days, she has another focus: a partnership with a website for women with RA. She designs bracelets with supportive sayings. It’s more than just a catchy slogan, Elizabeth says; it’s about raising awareness.

Getting the word out about RA is now Elizabeth’s personal mission. But she also has a message for others with the condition: Your life is far from over. Elizabeth still does core muscle exercises, like Pilates, and keeps moving, despite some discomfort. “Staying active is the only answer to pain management for me,” she says.

RA has brought Elizabeth challenges, but she also sees it as a blessing. It made her re-examine her life and reconnect with her creative side. “It’s a matter of adapting and finding a life and a type of work that makes you happy,” she says. “I actually feel lucky. Without RA, I never would have found my passion.” 

April 2013