Racing as a Paratriathlete

It was recently brought to my attention that there has been some concerns about my decision to race in the Paratriathlon circuit.

While I have undergone and continue to go though all proper channels, some felt the need to stir up some controversy in an attempt to discredit me. The following email was put out through a popular triathlon club mailing list regarding my decision to race in the PC (Physically Challenged) division. I have provided my response below the post. After I address the following, let me be clear that moving forward my legal team will be addressing any attempts to slander or discredit my reputation.

This was the email sent out:

“Winning a race at any cost…

So, like, I haven’t won a race in a while and the folks in my age group are pretty dang fast, and I haven’t gotten any faster (and don’t train very much anyway), so I said to myself, hmm, I need a podium and not just any podium, a first place podium so I can say I WON.  My ego needs it, my Facebook page needs it, I just plain need it.  But how?

And then it struck me.  Instead of racing in my age group wave, I’ll register as a Challenged Athlete!  Fricking Brilliant!  But wait…what’s my challenged condition…I’ve got 2 good arms, 2 good legs, 2 good hands and feet, 2 functioning eyeballs…ah, I’ve got ARTHRITIS!  That’s it!  I’m in!

So I sign up for the Seal Sprint as a PC (physically challenged) athlete and race a good race and holy moly I come in First Place and collect my trophy and my glory.  I don’t notice the person who came in second, an orphan from eastern Europe who is missing half a leg and raced her heart out because I’m doing my victory dance.  I won, fair and square, right?  I mean, I was FASTEST…I finished ahead of her.  And I would have finished a measly SIXTH in my normal age group.

If something doesn’t sound right to you about my “story”, I encourage you to examine the results of the PC wave at the Seal Sprint and try to fathom the algorithms used to determine “PC”.  It’s almost like Lance Armstrong is back.

If still you’re confused, know that this story isn’t about me, it about choices certain “athletes” have made about how to compete and attempt to win, at any cost.  It’s also about the process around signing up for races as a PC athlete, and the oversight (or lack) of those registrations.

View results at  http://www.geminitiming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ss_sprint_age_20146.htm

[NAME REMOVED TO PROTECT IDENTITY though I’d like to note that a 50-year-old man wrote this post]“

 OK, well, I have a couple different matters that I would like to address so lets get started:

To begin, let me nip this right in the bud. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a Paralympic recognized condition. In London 2012, Great Britain athlete Leigh Walmsley was the first professional athlete with RA to represent RA in the Paralympics. Leigh is an incredibly talented Archer. So, that right there dispels the notion that RA is not a PC recognized condition.

Many only hear the term “arthritis” and by going on their own perceived notions of the term “arthritis” they characterize RA as solely a joint condition and they do not realize that RA is actually a serious autoimmune disease.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA as it is commonly termed is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the body’s joints, tendons, and internal organs, while also eroding the bones, which can ultimately cause permanent deformity. The most common symptoms of RA include chronic pain, swelling, joint stiffness, muscle spasms, and chronic fatigue. The most common comorbidities related to rheumatoid arthritis include cardiovascular diseases, infections, mental health conditions, and malignancies.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. RA is managed with a cocktail of medications such as: immune-suppressant injections (one of them being a form of low-dose chemotherapy, yes, the same medication that treats cancer), muscle relaxers, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, steroids and sometimes blood transfusions when the situation peprevalence_autoimmunermits.

RA affects 1.3 million Americans. RA is one of the more common autoimmune diseases, with rates higher than a number of other conditions, including psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Over the past 15 years, there have been incredible advancements in the RA medical research field and when on the proper medication, a patient can achieve “remission” and live a relatively normal life with very little, if any deformities and minimal-moderate medicine complications. Remission is where the RA blood levels and clinical presentation are within normal range.  Though patients still succumb to the chronic, sometimes debilitating pain even while they are in remission. Dr.s have yet to understand what causes this pain even when blood levels are normal and clinical presentations are normal.

I achieved remission years ago, though I relinquished my remission with my decision to return to racing in triathlon. You see, when I train, which I do 6 days a week, 3-4 hours a day, I stimulate an immune response in my body where it activates my RA and makes my RA “flare”. The flare is due to the stress that I am causing my body by engaging in prolonged endurance physical activity, which causes inflammation. At about the 45-minute mark into physical activity, the inflammation triggers my RA to become aggressive, consequently causing me even more pain and the onset of clinical presentation of the disease (swelling, muscle spasms, etc) during the time of activity. I am currently undergoing medical evaluations to document and further explore this with my medical team. At this point, the athletic flares have not caused any further damage to my bones or organs and keeping active appears to help the joints maintain some mobility.

Now, touching on my decision to switch into Paratriathlon.

The Paralympics are not for the disabled, competitors may have an impairment, but they are very much enabled.

I am going into my 5th year of racing triathlons and this year I have decided to do it from a different perspective. I, now, have experience in both, triathlon and RA and I feel that I can do much more for the chronic pain community by racing in the para division. Over the next couple years, I am going to attempt to qualify and hope to bring RA into the Paratriathlete Paralympics Games. My racing now is about thinking outside the box and getting others empowered enough to believe in themselves despite living with a medical condition, while also helping to raise the global awareness for para triathletes.

Invisible illness sufferers often succumb to the feeling of self-doubt because we are constantly bullied and ridiculed daily by the general population, because people cannot ‘see’ our disability. Some even go as far as to claim we exaggerate our pain or ‘it is all in our head’. But, I believe in our sport and I believe in its power to embrace all walks of life and to help us all rediscover confidence that we may have lost for various reasons. Ranging from the overweight mom to the cancer survivor, triathletes provide hope and it is time we start sharing this hope and opportunity with the invisible illness community.

Touching on the para qualification and division(s).

Paratriathlon is an emerging sport.

ITU and USAT have a qualification system set forth for para athletes. Every athlete that races in the para division must submit their medical package and go through multiple physical evaluations in conjunction with a board review in order to obtain their proper Paratriathlon credentials. In early 2014, the para divisions were modified and ITU adopted a new criteria classification scaling system, which classifies an athlete based on a challenged athletes impairment score rather than their base impairment. To my understanding, prior to 2014, they had 6 classifications but as of March 2014 they now only have 5, and as of Jan 2014 all athletes in para circuit have to go under evaluations for reclassification.  Due to this current reclassification process, the Paratriathlon national championships have been pushed to a later date. You can read more about this process here: http://www.usatriathlon.org/audience/athlete-resources/paratriathletes/classification.aspx

Local triathlon races adopt the ITU/USAT standards as their guideline when organizing divisions however with the local races, due to the lack of para athletes participating, they put all of the para athletes into the same division. I imagine that they will continue to enact this collective one-for-all classification system for para division until there is a demand when more diverse para athletes are racing. Though what can the race director do when only 2-5 paras are racing? The sport is not at the level where there are enough para athletes at each local race to substantiate having multiple para divisions. Hopefully as the sport grows and more paras get involved, all races will adopt multiple para divisions, though we need growth in order for that to be enacted.

One more brief topic to touch on:

My race results do not define me. They do not define my brand or my business.

I am sponsored because of my core values and what I have and continue to persevere through. I am a professional who is legally contracted to race 14 races this year. This is my full-time job. My contracts stipulate to maintain consistency of my racing and with the unpredictability of my disease, my commitment to 14 races is more than impressive. If anyone questions the merit of a para being a professional, then you have bigger problems than I can address in this brief posting. Podium finishes are neither here nor there at this point; my goal is to maintain consistency. Next year, when I start the Paralympic qualification process, then I will focus on going after the podiums [1st, 2nd, 3rd =’podium’].

Now, to wrap this up, I have said all I need to say regarding this matter and I will not be bullied. Support me and the invisible illness community, keep your negative opinions to yourself or deal with my legal team.

-Angela

This entry was posted on March 31, 2014. 6 Comments

Cold Water Technique

Here is a brief excerpt of an interview that I did with Outdoor Health and Fitness where I discuss dealing with the chronic pain caused by RA with pain desensitization techniques.

The full episode is scheduled for release on 03/31/14.

This is a podcast interview, you can listen here: http://www.outsidehealthandfitness.com/pain-desensitization

Brief overview:

Pain Desensitization Techniques Increase Pain Threshold

Angela DurazoIn this audio brief of my upcoming interview with triathlete and rheumatoid arthritis suffer Angela Durazo she talks about how she’s been able to significantly reduce pain with desensitization techniques.

As a professional triathlete who is also living with rheumatoid arthritis Angela Durazo faces and has learned to overcome many challenges. One of the most significant is living with the chronic pain brought on by rheumatoid arthritis. 

Cold Water Technique

One of the main triggers of her pain is cold water and as a triathlete cold water swimming is a major factor in every race. In order to compete, Angela needed to find a way to increase her pain tolerance.

She remembered training with some friends who were Navy seals and what they told her about pain desensitization techniques used to increase their tolerance. In essence, by subjecting yourself to higher levels of pain over time your threshold for what you can tolerate increases.

So Angela would place her hand in ice water for 2 or 3 minutes at a time several times a week. By willingly subjecting herself to intense pain, which may seem counter intuitive, she was able to increase her pain tolerance over time.

Now, despite living in chronic pain all the time, she is able to tolerate it so well that most people who meet her have no idea she is living with RA. Her pain does not affect her the way it once did and it’s not preventing her from doing those things that she loves to do.

This entry was posted on March 26, 2014. 1 Comment

To be resilient…

I know what it feels like to wake up in terrible pain, feeling overwrought with discouragement.

The type of heaviness that weighs in your soul and makes the rhythm of your heartbeat mildly erratic when you ask yourself, ‘why did this happen to me’…

I allow myself to sit in this pain for a minute, I shed a tear and acknowledge my suffering. Then I pick myself up and focus on everything that I want.

I put my training clothes on and make my way to the gym.

As I’m starting to train, I daydream about being on the course, racing amongst the best. I can literally feel my stomach ache as I try to satisfy my appetite, my hunger to be one the best.

I become completely convinced that I have no limitations. I force my mind and my body into a place where I embrace my pain and I use it to fuel my power. I completely surrender myself to the race.

There’s nothing more empowering than the fuel derived from suffering. Pain bestows upon you everything you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, yet it gifts you with the realization that you have the strength to move mountains. The strength to forge ahead. The strength to show others a new path.

It teaches you to be humble, to be appreciative, to be wise, to be ambitious, and most of all…to be resilient.

 

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This entry was posted on December 17, 2013. 3 Comments

Turn your pain into power

About 14 weeks ago I tried to do a “glute bridge” and I had serious trouble trying to do it. My hips have taken a lot of pain and stiffness from the RA so moving them has been painful.

Well, I decided I wanted to do these things and I started with 5 simple, barely even moving. It burned to move and I sometimes teared up from the pain.

So, I put on my most aggressive weight lifting music (Rob bailey-hungry) and decided I wasn’t going to let RA decide what I can and can’t do.

For weeks I practiced and tried, 3 times a week. At times feeling embarrassed and foolish but I kept with it. 5 turned into 7, then 10, then 12, then one leg, then after a couple months, the pain went away. I had won my movement back! My hips moved freely without feeling like stuck in cement and lactic burn.

Today I did my glute bridges, one leg 3x 12 with 25lb weight. I have my movement back, I had to fight like hell for it, but I won and now I’m getting stronger.

I promise you, if you stick and fight with all your heart, you can accomplish your goals too. Turn your pain into power, my friends.

Turn your pain into power.

#beatingRA

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Big accomplishment today! 12 months ago, I couldn’t squat, my range of motion was limited, it hurt to move in a squat motion and I wasn’t strong enough for even my own body weight, so I started baby squats-motions in the pool, holding onto the rail. After a couple months, I graduated to assisted squatting, outside the pool where I held a towel wrapped around a pillar to do the full range of motion squat, no weight, just motion. About 3 months of those and I graduated to the Smith machine, only bar. A couple months of those and then I graduated to bar + 10lbs, I did a couple months like that. -Well, last week I graduated out of the Smith machine into free standing squats with the bar (45lbs)! Yes!!  This week I added weights! AMAZING #gettingstronger

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This entry was posted on November 8, 2013. 3 Comments

My weight chronicles

Many people do not know this about me, but there was a time when I was overweight. At my heaviest, I was 185. Healthy for my height/bone structure is 120.

My desire to get healthy is actually why I started doing triathlon.

Below is a picture of me before my first triathlon, I was 180 there. I can specifically remember bringing out my overalls because I had gotten to the point where none of my pants fit and I was too ashamed to go buy any new clothes. I was SO embarrassed, having been a former model, then just letting myself go due to depression. This was after I had the breast cancer scare, lost some modeling contracts and just felt defeated by life. I became very apathetic and used food and alcohol as my coping mechanisms.

When  looked in the mirror, I was insecure and just disgusted with myself. Not only for gaining the weight, but because I felt like a failure. When I tried to go hiking with friends, I couldn’t keep up. When I tried to run, I was exhausted after 100 feet. When I started going to the gym, I was terrified. I never like the way I looked in clothes so I wore baggy clothing to hide my shame. I looked at fit women in awe, asking myself how they were so strong and determined.

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It took me some time but eventually I developed the courage to change my life, to get my life back. I used triathlon as my tool to get my health back. 

So, I understand the insecurity, the struggle and the discouragement. And I’m posting this as a reminder that you can accomplish what you set your mind too! I promise you!   I’m in the process of writing my book, and let me tell you, life has kicked me in the face so many times in so many different ways, I have every reason to feel sorry and give up, but I can’t. God has bigger plans for me which is why he has put me through so much hardship. I hope that by telling my stories, it will help you with yours.

“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” - Joshua J. Marine

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Guest Interview with Wake Up San Diego

Hope everyone is doing great!

I was on CW’s ‘Wake Up San Diego’  for a live interview this morning.  Discussing my breast-cancer scare/surgery and my journey with RA. They had to cut it a bit short, they asked me to come back when I started my season in a couple months to give them an update on my progress. :)

http://www.sandiego6.com/story/angela-durazo-triumph-over-tragedy-20131018

Here are some still shots:

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What I was doing wasn’t working

IMG_9110When I was diagnosed, I welcomed conventional medicine. I had heard good things about biologics and I was looking forward to finally having a medicine to help me control my disease.

When I started treatment, the first month, I did not feel any difference (as expected) and then after couple months into treatment, I started to feel better. Wow, great I thought. I had all these plans…Then, unfortunately I started to decline in health again and could no longer take biologics.

I tried other meds and rode that rollar coster for a while and then I got to the point where I had to accept that my body was not responding well and I had to stop medication. I developed anemia, shingles, lost over 25 lbs, went days with out food, had severe muscle spasms, actually lost mobility in my ankles and wrists. Visited the ER at least 5 times in a year.. Everyone reacts differently. I have friends that have been on biologics for 5-10 years and it helped them substantially, sadly though, treatment only helps 1/3 of sufferers and then 2/3′s of us are left seeking alternative measures because our body’s reject medicine :(

IMG_4102I think it is important to note that nutrition can fix and prevent a lot disease but not all. For instance, I have  Hashimoto’s, meaning my thyroid does not work properly so I have to take medicine to correct it. Also my mom is an insulin dependent diabetic, she is not obese, she is actually at perfect weight, her pancreas just does not work, hasn’t the past 25 years. She is on the same diet that I am on, and while her overall health has improved, but she still needs her insulin pump. Nutrition can change your life, but do not rule out medicine when it is necessary.

In an ideal word, RA meds would work for all of us and we can pair those with eating healthy but sadly some people like myself have very sensitive bodys that reject medicine and we have to seek relief from adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.

So, I made the brave decision to pursue a ‘diet controlled RA management’ way of life. What I was doing wasn’t working so I needed to explore different options. And since I’ve made these changes, I’m in remission, no longer have that ‘bone pain’ and the deviation in my hands has stopped progressing.

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I also want to note that changing my diet was not the only change that helped me. It is a collective effort with diet change, intensive physical therapy to regain range of motion/strength and counseling to deal with the trauma of this disease/stress better.  – So if you are looking for that one ‘quick fix’, you wont find it. -

And I’m not telling you to get off your meds,

I am telling you to start looking at your diet as another way to fight this disease.

I am telling you to start moving with physical therapy as another way to fight this disease.

I am telling you to go to counseling to deal with the emotional implications of this disease, to get back the confidence that this disease stripped you of as another way to fight this disease.

Do what you need to do to get better.

 First, before I eliminated anything from my diet, I started making changes by supplementing with digestive enzymes (3 before every meal) and drinking 1 tablespoon of  chia seeds a day. 

Digestive Enzymes are what allow our body to digest, absorb and convert food into energy. They drive the chemical reaction that is needed for a particular action or nutrient.  Enzymes are the building blocks, as well as being the life force itself, of all things living. Involved in all systems of the human body, enzymes assist in the healing of tissues, detoxify major organs as well as the building of body mass as well as the regulation of the thousands of biochemical functions in our body, from thought to growth, our immune systems to hormone regulation and from the reparation of organs, tissues and glands to cellular growth. Chis seeds are rich in Omega-3s, protein, fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals.

Then, I changed my diet by cutting out certain foods in my diet, gluten and processed sugar.

The reason that I cut out gluten was because gluten is a complex protein created when gliadin and glutenin — two proteins found in several flours that are hydrated and mixed. Some gluten has higher ratios of gliadin and vice versa depending on the structural matrix.

This one studies celiac and non-celiac and it concludes that ” Based on our results, we concluded that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16635908

And I was reading in this one as well, “The data obtained in this pilot study support the hypothesis that gluten elicits its harmful effect, throughout an IL15 innate immune response, on all the individuals.”http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1954879/

This suggests that Celiac disease is actually triggered in healthy people due to the gliadinhttp://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(08)00459-9/abstract

 and it increases the body’s immune response to the body. Being that I have an autoimmune disease, it made sense to cut gluten because it was causing my already weakened immune system more distress, which resulted in my body (mainly hand joints) to become inflamed.

So, when you consume gluten with an autoimmune disease, think of it as, your body is in a constant state of irritation, ready to lash out if anything disrupts it (like stress).

The reason that I cut out sugar (though I do give myself an occasional cheat day, I am human) is because sugar, or foods with a high glycemic index increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is an important hormone in the body that is involved in the function of your glucose metabolism, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, regulating blood pressure, inflammatory responses and it is the body’s hormone response to stress.

So, when we wake up, we have naturally high cortisol levels. This serves as our natural boost of energy to start our day. As we get up and the day progresses, our body [is supposed to] decrease cortisol levels and go into a “relaxed response”. Relaxed is when our body is balanced and performs its normal functions. A relaxed response is where we operate best.

Unfortunately, in our current high-stress society, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return too normal. This keeps the body in a state of chronic stress and if you mix in eating sugar, it adds fuel to the fire, resulting in a state of chronically high cortisol. Some cortisol is good for us, but chronically high cortisol is extremely destructive to our body.

Stress = Increased cortisol.
Sugar= Increased cortisol
Chronic Stress & Sugar Combination= Chronically high cortisol
Chronically high cortisol= A magnitude of problems.

Here is a sample meal plan:

Breakfast:Angela Durazo Races for a Cure
3 Digestive Enzyme Pills
2 pieces of Gluten Free Bread (Made of rice and fruit Juice)
2 Hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoon Chia Seeds mixed with Tart Black Cherry Juice

Post training Snack:
3  Digestive Enzyme Pills
1 pack energy mix in blender with 1 banana, 1 tablespoon of almond butter, ½ cup coconut shavings, 1 packet of powdered fruits/veggies, ice, water
Lara Bar (gluten Free)

Lunch:
3  Digestive Enzyme Pills
1 chicken breast (grilled)
Spinach salad with ½ avocado, 1/4 cup raw almonds, honey mustard dressing
½ cup rice/ sweet potato

Snack:
3 Digestive Enzyme Pills
Celery with Almond butter
Cup of pineapple/berries
V8

Dinner:
3 Digestive Enzyme Pills
1 chicken breast (grilled) or other protein
Spinach salad with ½ avocado, 1/4 cup raw almonds, honey mustard dressing, 1 cup of broccoli
2 tablespoon Chia Seeds mixed with Tart Black Cherry Juice

I do eat carbs and my carbs are from rice, sweet potatoes or gluten free bread. I eat a lot of carbs in the  morning and afternoon; it gives me my ‘fuel’ for the day. I typically do not eat any carbs after 4PM.

Any athletes reading this that have questions about my sport nutrition: During training I use Ignite Naturals IN Refresh (electrolytes), GSH Pro Series (carbo mix) and Reload (Gels). The reason I use ignite it is is 100% plant based, with no processed sugars.

Also, the veracity of my RA has been questioned, so I will remind everyone of some of the videos that I have posted over the past year, a couple in specific showing my hands. It does not bother me much about my hands being disfigured, all I am concerned with is if they function, and they do, pain free now. With RA remission, I will not have anymore disfigurement but I cannot undo the old disfigurement.

I filmed this when the worst flare that I have ever had hit me when I was on vacation in Florida: 

I filmed this after a swim when I was a week back into my training after a year from hell.:

I filmed this after a short run when I was first learning how to run again:

Here is a video about that time that I almost died from MRSA, (It was an audition video for an adventure race show, where I told my story. I filmed this about 3 months before I was diagnosed with RA):

This entry was posted on October 2, 2013. 4 Comments