Running with rheumatoid arthritis is a long road. In October 2006, my running group – the six of us who were training together for our November 11 marathon – aimed to do 10 miles that night. I started running, but before I had gone five miles, I knew I was in trouble. A groin pull, I thought – but one so painful I couldn’t finish.

The next Sunday, I met the group for our scheduled 20-miler – the real tune-up before the marathon. But it was clear they were going to be running without me. I could hardly walk. I watched everyone take off, and I sat down and cried.

I had been preparing to run my first marathon for five months, but I had been dreaming about it since I was a child. I know it seems odd to have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and run, and for most of my life I thought my dream was lost. I’m able to run now because of the medications I take, the fact that my upper body joints are affected more than my lower body joints, and the close eye my rheumatologist and I keep on my health. But I only have a limited number of years before I’ll have to stop running. So I’m racing the clock, in more ways than one.

Reclaiming my childhood dream was important to me because for years my life had been defined by arthritis. When I was a kid, I played every sport imaginable: softball, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics. All that came to an end one month before my 13th birthday when I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. 

Out of Control

In a few months I went from being a healthy, carefree kid to watching my whole world spin out of control. I had no say in all the things that happened to me: the pills, pain, needles, X-rays, limp, braces, splints, surgeries – and most painfully, the stares and the laughter of my schoolmates. I felt worthless and misunderstood. I wasn’t sure if I could handle one more day of the pain and bullying.

In a misguided attempt to regain some control, I developed anorexia. Then a bad flare forced me to go on prednisone, and I gained 65 pounds in three months. I responded by becoming bulimic, only to find out that, like arthritis and anorexia, bulimia was quick to control me. I would struggle with this disease for more than six years, all the way through high school and college.