Healthy Living

Triathlete Keeps on Running Despite Rheumatoid Arthritis

Triathlete Keeps on Running Despite Rheumatoid Arthritis

Lora Zagnoli; Alloy Images

Patients suffering from RA often think that they can no longer exercise, and lose all motivation in improving their physical health and stamina. Reesa Partida is trying to prove that RA doesn't have to stop anyone from being physical.

Her story

Hearing the doctor diagnose a chronic disease is heartbreaking and devastating. It was no different for Partida. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was just 25 years old, and the diagnosis threatened not only her passion but her career as well.

Partida is a dance teacher, aerial gymnast, and veteran triathlete. When almost your entire life surrounds high intensity activities such as these, an RA diagnosis is a huge blow. But Partida looked to make the best out of an entirely bleak situation.

Initial struggles for Reesa

At first, the RA was preventing her from doing much of anything. Her toes were so often achy and swollen that she could barely walk, much less run. She had to bow out of her first Ironman (one of the most prestigious triathlon events) due to being in so much pain. Her doctor began by prescribing her a steroid (Prednisone) to try and help reduce some of the inflammation. While she still wasn't able to compete, she did find solace when she was able to dance at her wedding the summer after her diagnosis (she was afraid she would never be able to dance again).

After months of visiting and speaking with her doctor, Partida knew that she needed a long-term game plan. She eventually began taking methotrexate, an anti-rheumatic drug that, in low doses, will help slow down the progression of RA and lessen joint pain and swelling. The drug is also sometimes used as a chemotherapy drug, although the doses are much higher in that case. Taking the drug was no walk in the park. Partida was forced to get used to the side effects like nausea, mouth sores, and fatigue while desperately waiting for the drugs to start working.

Success after months of treatment

Once the drugs finally started kicking in, she started training right away. It was surely difficult and full of obstacles and difficulties, but the training would eventually pay off. Only eight months after her initial diagnosis, Partida ran the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in Los Angeles and placed 10th in her age group. The following year (2015) she managed to place fourth in her age group. In 2016, she finally was able to compete in her first Ironman.

It wasn't always easy for Partida, however. Like many RA patients, she had her off days. Sometimes the medication would make her nauseous. Other times she felt like she had the flu, with pain throughout her body and complete fatigue. She could go from running and swimming countless miles one day, to hardly being able to get out of bed the next.

Partida says it can be hard to motivate herself to swim, bike, or run, but she goes out and does it anyway. Her overwhelming passion for physical fitness overrides any pain or tiredness for RA. She says that she sometimes pushes herself so hard that she will hardly be able to move the next day, and sometimes she ends up falling asleep around 8 p.m.

Her doctor’s important role in her health

Partida said a huge reason she is able to do the things that she loves is encouragement from her doctor. She relayed to her doctor her love of physical fitness and that she didn't want that to change because of her condition. Her doctor told her not to worry, and that she was certain that Partida would still be able to do the things she loved.

Partida currently feels that her treatment is effective and allows her the freedom to pursue her passions as much as possible. While it may not always be easy, she is grateful that she can still do the amount of physical activity that she can. She also knows that the treatment may not work forever. She knows there may be a point that the medication stops working, forcing her to change treatments. She says she uses that as motivation to get as much done as she can in the present, in case she might not be able to do it for a while.

Not only did Partida continue to do the things that she loved, she even took up a new physical art of aerial gymnastics. This sport often involves acrobats using their hands to grab onto silk curtains as they twist and turn their body through the air. Partida says she had always wanted to try aerial gymnastics, and that she would not let her RA stop her. She even got a rig in her backyard so she could practice her newfound passion at home.

Partida says that RA should not stop you from following your dreams. She says that having faith in your doctors and yourself is key to getting through the tough days. Although you may face obstacles and challenges, you can still lead a healthy, normal life with RA.

You can do it, too

You may be sitting here thinking this article doesn't apply to you. Maybe you don't go out running triathlons or exercise much at all. But the truth is, exercise is very helpful for arthritis patients. It keeps your joints strong, your muscles loose, and your inflammation low. You don’t need to do high intensity workouts for hours a day to achieve this result. Even as little as 30 minutes of low-impact activity per day can do wonders in helping your condition. Here are a few exercises that any RA patients can do to reduce their pain and symptoms:

  1. Yoga - Yoga is great for RA patients since it focuses mainly on stretching and loosening muscles and joints. There are online yoga routines that have even been designed specifically for arthritis patients. As an added bonus, you will likely find yourself in a better mood since yoga is known to reduce stress and lessen depression and anxiety.
  2. Pool activities - Whether it is water polo or Pilates, pool exercises can be great for RA patients. The best part of water exercises is that they can improve your strength and flexibility while lowering the stress and tension the exercises have on your body. This gives you the benefits of regular exercise while preventing things like swelling, pain, and stiffness from developing.
  3. Walking - You don't need to run a marathon, but walking a bit each day can actually improve your arthritis symptoms. It will strengthen your leg muscles and joints, making you less likely to be prone to pain and swelling. It could also help you lose weight, which could reduce the stress and pain from your joints when moving about. It’s relaxing, too, to get some fresh air and take a stroll around a local park or nature trail.

Final thoughts

While these exercises can be great for your health, be aware of your limits. Talk to your doctor before starting any training regimen and ask what sort of exercises they believe would be ok with the state of your condition. There may be days were you simply can't exercise because of flare-ups and that is okay. Don't think that you need to exercise every day of every year to get any benefits. You also should always stop what you are doing if it causes you to feel any pain. Not only is pain unpleasant, it will prevent the strengthening of your muscles and joints too. For more information on arthritis symptoms, developments, and helpful hints, be sure to check out the rest of our website.