Photo source: KGBT
When most people hear a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, they see it as the end of their active lifestyles.
Abel Gonzalez, a 33 year old from Chicago, Illinois is known for his time as a top competitor on the show American Ninja Warrior on NBC. The show, based on a Japanese sports competition called Sasuke, involves contestants running a gauntlet of stages made up of obstacles that are designed to be as physically demanding as possible. Contestants have to bound across tiny platforms, move their entire body weight using little handholds, and climb up to 30 feet using only their upper body. This may sound impossible for someone with rheumatoid arthritis, but Gonzalez has shown that this is not the case.
Gonzalez was born in Chicago, Illinois into problematic circumstances. His parents had married young and did not have much money. To make matters worse, his father had been abusive to him and his mother for quite some time. When he was 10 years old his parents had gotten a divorce, and Gonzalez and his brother Matthew found themselves homeless. They were eventually sent to live with family members in Texas, while their two younger brothers stayed behind to live with their mother in Chicago. As many children whose parents get divorced have experienced, Gonzalez was saddled with guilt that he had somehow caused his parents to get divorced.
Gonzalez had a lot of pent up anger over his family situation, and he channeled this anger into sports. He was one of the state's premier football players all throughout high school, and many believed he was on his way to playing college football at a Division 1 university. Gonzalez was unable to pursue a career in football, however, as he was always working multiple jobs to provide financially for his younger family members.
Gonzalez still found use for his athleticism when he found himself working on oil refineries. The work mainly consisted of lifting and manipulating heavy metals. At first, he seemed quite successful at his newfound employment. But as time went on, Gonzalez was thrown another huge curveball in his life.
Ever since he was 20 years old, Gonzalez had suffered from intense pain and swelling in his hands. He said that if he did not take any painkillers within 3 days, he would be unable to use his hands at all. He says that he first believed this was just a product of his line of work and getting older. The moment he realized there was something really wrong was when he noticed a noticeable swelling in his knees. This worried him and after visiting a doctor and running some test, he was told that he had rheumatoid arthritis.
Although he was distraught at finding out about his condition, Gonzalez was determined to make the most out of his situation. He scoured the internet for any information he could find on his condition. He went on forums and posted as many questions as he could. He wanted to know what his options were. Originally he was met with a lot of negativity. Most people told him that he would not be able to perform any physical tasks anymore, and doctors prescribed heavy medications for him to take to mitigate the condition.
Gonzalez was not happy with the treatments prescribed to him, and in a shocking decision decided to forego traditional treatments completely. Instead, he focused on a training regimen focused on exercise and diet. He started getting really into nutrition and focusing on eating as many healthy foods as he could. For his exercise regimen Gonzalez focused on exercises that helped maintain and increase his range of movement. One of the most important things he said that he learned was to focus solely on positive things in his life. He refused to let any negativity get him down, and no matter what challenges were thrown his way, he refused to give up.
His journey to become a Ninja Warrior
Gonzalez was sitting on his couch watching American Ninja Warrior with his aunt when he saw an announcement for tryouts for the show. Immediately he made up his mind that he would try out for the show. He went online and looked for trainers who had experience in the competition, but he initially found no one near him. Eventually he expanded his search and found two coaches, Sam Sann And Drew Drechsel, a whopping six hours from where he was currently residing. Drechsel and Sann were two veterans of the show, with Drechsel being one of the only American competitors to go over to Japan to compete on Sasuke. After just two training sessions Gonzalez was invited to run the course.
One might think that RA would have hindered Gonzalez and made him perform less than stellar on the course. On the contrary, Gonzalez achieved one of the best debuts the show had ever seen. He earned his way to the Las Vegas finals by completing the qualifiers course and getting far enough fast enough in the city finals to become one of the 15 best times and move on. Gonzalez's success did not stop there though. Once he arrived at the Las Vegas course, he became the first rookie to ever complete the first two stages of the course to move on to stage three. For reference, in a typical season only 2 or 3 out of 90 competitors would make it all the way to stage three of the show. Gonzalez would eventually fall on the third stage, but not before becoming one of the breakout performers of that season. Gonzalez has continued to appear on the show every season, and has shown no sign of slowing down.
What we can learn from him
Gonzalez was able to make the best out of his situation, and didn't let his RA stop him from becoming one of the United States' best athletes. His journey tells us that RA does not have to stop patients from achieving their dreams.
His story also shows the importance of diet and exercise in RA patients. While we aren't going to recommend you throw your medications away and forego your doctor visits, you should remember that diet and exercise could have a great impact on the severity of your condition. You don't have to necessarily find the nearest ninja gym, but doing some research into stretches and exercises could reduce the pain and stiffness that so many RA patients struggle with. Most of all, it is important to remember to stay as positive as you can. This can be hard with all the struggles RA brings, but negativity will only bring you down and stunt your progress. Learning to stay positive is key when trying to manage your condition and still live a normal and healthy life.
We hope that hearing Abel's story shows you that RA can be overcome. If he can become one of the best athletes in America while dealing with RA, that will hopefully show others that you can still be physically active while dealing with the condition. For more information on RA treatments, developments, and tips, be sure to visit the rest of our website.