When I was in elementary school, my father and mother were passionate about running. They typically did 5K distances to half marathons. They also encouraged me to begin running. However, my father was not as consistent in his training due to having stiff joints from time to time and occasional lower back and sacroiliac pain. This pain was typically worse in the mornings for him. He claimed that this was due to a sports injury in high school while playing football.
In middle school and high school, I concentrated most of my efforts in track and field. I simultaneously joined a swim team to assist with cross training. Unfortunately, I did not train efficiently and developed injuries from over-training and chronic fatigue. This ultimately led to me taking a three-year hiatus from running altogether – starting my senior year of high school. I still never saw my full potential.
In college, I was forced to undergo an extensive surgery in an effort to prevent a heritable colon cancer from developing. The physicians said that it would be in my best interest to have this done when I was 19 years old. It took me a full year to fully recover from this surgery and build my muscle mass up again. It was shortly after this time that I decided I wanted to start running again.
While reengaging with running at 21 years old, I realized that I was having difficulty in the mornings with hip and lower back pain and stiffness. I was significantly slower than I used to be, and I became discouraged. I began abusing alcohol during this time in an effort to numb my pain that was progressively getting worse. There was one day in particular when my roommates had to come get me and carry me into the house because I was hurting so badly. I spent the night on the couch and realized that I needed answers to what was happening.
My father visited me and informed me that after 30 years, he still experienced similar symptoms as mine. He also told me that I would be living with this for the rest of my life because he was beginning to suspect it was genetic. He told me that I needed to look into cycling and come to terms with the idea that I would never be able to run ever again without developing severe pain. I listened to his advice and began pursuing a new sport in cycling. Over time, I realized that my natural ability in cycling was superior to my running skills. Eventually, I learned that I would be able to run about once a week, if I religiously swam and cycled daily.
After a few years, I had grown accustomed to my new lifestyle where I took NSAIDs daily and worked out religiously, in specific quantities, in hopes of relieving the pain I was feeling. I was always cautious to not “overdo it” for fear of waking up the following morning with terrible pain. Meanwhile, my best friend, Zane, had been monitoring my progress in these sports and suggested I compete in triathlons. I competed in my first sprint triathlon in the summer of 2013. However, as much as I continued to train in the following years, I was unable to consistently run. Eventually, the pain in my joints progressed enough that I was no longer able to find relief through NSAIDs, cycling, and swimming; my depression began to set in again because of debilitating pain that impeded my ability to walk – let alone compete anymore. My wife and stepmother intervened in 2017 and had me visit with a rheumatologist.
The rheumatologist diagnosed me with ankylosing spondylitis and prescribed a new medication for me. She stated that it would possibly take several months to feel the full effects of the medication. To my surprise, I felt relief within two weeks. Within three weeks, I was running 20 miles a week. By the time I visited my rheumatologist again, I was running over 60 miles a week, which is more than I did in high school.
The very same year I started my new medication, I immediately shaved 5 minutes off my sprint triathlon times. I simultaneously competed in my first half Ironman triathlon. I am currently training for my first full Ironman distance triathlon. My goal will be to complete this race in under 13 hours.
Combating ankylosing spondylitis, and familial adenomatous polyposis, has led to significant moments of personal development. The constant adaptation with this disease has led to a journey of building deeper relationships with others; I am closer to my aunt, uncle, and cousins due to the difficult times of this journey. At the same time, I have pursued a career as a registered nurse, and have become more empathetic toward the patients I take care of who deal with chronic pain – especially those who feel like they are having difficulty realizing their full potential. My history with chronic pain has helped me develop as a healthcare professional and an athlete.