The Running Diagnosis: Shelly Heavens

My name is Shelley Heavens, I have been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis since my mid 20’s; an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
At that time (2002), I weighed 267 pounds. I never really exercised or did anything for myself. This was also at a point in my life where my mental health was being affected. No energy, motivation, depression and lack of self-esteem were evident in how I carried myself. Note: this was also a time of a failed marriage, but I had two small children depending on me to be the best mom I could possibly be. I needed to step it up! This is when a light-bulb went off ….where I made the conscious decision to make change to my mental/physical/spiritual and emotional health.

After consulting with my family doctor and RA Specialist, I switched to a healthier diet and began exercising. I focused on small changes, like adding in exercise daily, portion control and cutting down on sugar. I purchased a treadmill for home so that during our long northern Ontario cold winters, I did not have any excuse not to exercise. I began my own walk/run routine and from there, my love of running blossomed.

I do manage my symptoms with NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and there are often times I do still get a flare-up. My RA symptoms primarily affect my hands and wrists — they will painfully swell to the point where I cannot use them, — and occasionally my toes as well.

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In July 2014, I gathered up my courage, and signed up for my 1st 5km. I was hooked!! Since then, I have completed five 5kms, two 7kms, three 10kms, and most recently my first half-marathon in October 2016. Already for 2017, this girl has already registered for three half marathons and signed up for the Run Like A Girl’s Chakra Adventure and Wellness Retreat in Costa Rica, this November!
Overall, I feel that I have reaped the benefits of exercise with rheumatoid arthritis. Running keeps my muscles loose and it keeps my joints fluid and working. I feel so much better.

Sometimes you have to change your plan a little bit to adjust for your life, but I never have allowed it to stop me. To the readers with RA (or not) who think that being a runner is out of reach, It’s NOT!! If someone had told me back then that I would one day run a 5K, I’d have laughed at them.

As for my self-esteem, working towards something I could feel proud of, like crossing a finish line, shaped the way I saw myself. After I ran my first 5km, I felt proud of what my body could do instead of wishing it looked a certain way. I started embracing my own strength and I started feeling empowered by my size and strength. I finally understood that strength didn’t look a certain way, it felt a certain way. It didn’t happen overnight, but I slowly started believing in myself and loving the body I worked really, really hard for.
For me “Run like a girl” defines the opportunity to realize my own strength while consistently being given the chance to push//challenge my limits. That I can accomplish so much more then I would have ever imagined possible.

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