How One Athlete Manages Her Rheumatoid Arthritis

Athlete Shelly has one motto: No limits! She loves tackling pursuits like marathons, 100-mile bike rides and mountain climbing. And her rheumatoid arthritis is the very reason she does it all.

Katie Alberts
More Sharing +

How does she overcome the challenges of climbing with RA? “You have to be more aware of weather changes, since a drop in temps means more pain, and you can’t take a lot of breaks to check out the view or your joints will freeze up. I have trouble attaching my crampons to my boots, so Ben does that for me, and he carries the heavier pack. But it’s all worth it when we’re standing on the summit. It’s the place that most reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for.” Read on for Shelly’s stay-tough secrets:

  1. Build a partnership with your doctor
    “I had a great rheumatologist when I lived in Bend, OR,” says Shelly. “He was everything you could want in a doctor. He listened to all my self-diagnoses and ideas, printed out research to keep me looking ahead, and also incorporated my mom into my treatment so she could support me at home. The years I spent going to his practice made me the strong patient I am today.”
  2. Spark your inner athlete
    “I volunteer with the Special Olympics as a skiing and snowshoeing instructor, and it’s convinced me that everyone can benefit from finding a sport they love. Working toward a goal and perceiving yourself as an athlete helps you love yourself and love your body—and treat it better.”
  3. Stay motivated with this:
    Bragging rights! “My husband jokes that I don’t enjoy summiting a mountain as much as I enjoy telling people I did—and there’s some truth to that!” laughs Shelly. “I like to prove people wrong. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that RA will get in your way, but I would never be the athlete I am today if it weren’t for my diagnosis.”
  4. Find your cheerleaders
    “It doesn’t matter if you have a disease or not—there are those people in life who support you and those who don’t,” says Shelly. “I look so healthy, I’ve had people accuse me of lying about my arthritis, while other people try to cure me. I just focus on the friends and family who love me and know my story.” 
April 2013