Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Arthritis and adventure racing

sport arthritis
Robyn from Project Athena Foundation
Hip replacements and arthritis are things we usually associate with older people, people in their 60s maybe. But not always. American adventure racer Robyn Benincasa was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at 41. 

Robyn says on her website she was taking part in the World Championships in 2007 when it all came to a head. "I was in so much pain that I took one final step and fell to the ground on the fifth day of the race, the day that my team was climbing the biggest peak in the country, Ben Nevis. My teammates took all of my gear and put me on a tow line. Often during the last thirty-six hours of that race, I had to physically pick up my leg and move it forward because it would no longer respond to signals from my brain." 

I'm sure lots of you reading have felt as if you were throwing a leg up the mountain from time to time but this was something else. With 15 years of adventure racing  - if you don't know, they're the people that run, bike, kayak or climb for days over mountains, through rivers or caves and well over whatever is in the way - behind her Robyn was not someone you'd expect to be told both hips were disintegrating.

And this is where the story moves behind the usual athlete-gets-injured and overcomes. Obviously osteoarthritis isn't a death knell but it can be next to that for many people. 

After two gruesome sounding operations involving dislocation of a leg by the surgeon, Robyn tried to find, well, find the meaning in the mess. First she started with two friends, who'd had rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer, organising an adventure race-team. And from there, it grew into a foundation Project Athena that works with women who've been through disease and want to start living again. 

The woman who sent me on the link (thank you Sandy) says it's an "incredible story". We all think when we're sick we will never forget how frustrating it is but usually once we get better, that's it. Illness packed in a box never to be thought of again. But Robyn Benincasa managed to hold onto that even while she started racing again - enough that she is able to get other women on their feet again. 

I had to smile at the final line on her page from her book Team Works: "I guess the moral of the story is that none of this life changing and life affirming stuff would have happened had there been more cartilage in the world." 

Do you know anyone else living with a disease usually associated with older people?



Snowcatcher said...

I'm on the aching end of that A-word, too. I'm so impressed that she has gone on to not only live her life, but inspire others to do likewise. I'd not heard of her, so thank you for sharing this.

niamh said...

@snowcatcher - It's the thing they don't tell you about sport when you start off ...