Farewell to the Triathlon Community

Farewell to the Triathlon Community                                                                                   Angela Durazo

  “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote could be my anthem. Success for me is not material but the way a person is able to impact other lives in a positive way.

Since 2010, I have been dedicated to an endurance sport – Triathlon. Prior to this time, in 2006, severe health difficulties had me spending time in the hospital where several nights I feared that if I allowed myself to sleep, would I actually wake up the next morning? I felt a loss of control –over my body and over my mind.

I came out of that hospitalization determined to achieve something substantial. I was attracted to Triathlon because of how much the sport tests one’s endurance and mental strength. In hindsight, I guess I was trying to teach my body that I was the boss. I needed to feel that I was the boss. Because when I was in hospital I felt the exact opposite.

Triathlon was exhilarating. Those Triathletes reading this will be smiling because they know what I’m talking about. It was like nothing else I’d experienced and I was happy. Alive. Achieving. I was the boss. I believed I’d found what I was meant to do.

The diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis was a crippling blow to my euphoria. Seemingly overnight, I went from a confident athlete and entrepreneur to someone unable to care for herself. Some days, I was unable to dress myself. Traditional treatment failed me and after realizing doctors didn’t have all the answers, I did what I always do in times of trouble. I took control. I changed my diet, desensitized myself to chronic pain, and learned how to function despite the chronic fatigue; I asked questions and I searched for answers. I made myself available to a medical community of specialists and happily volunteered myself to participate in their research because they’d seen no prior cases to reference on a Triathlete RA patient.

The day after my diagnosis, I decided to go public with my condition and start this blog with the hopes of positively impacting the lives of others, and sharing my journey– but more importantly, sharing the lessons and the disease management insight that I discovered along the way.

Life delivers blows to all of us in different manifestations. The philosopher Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I have grown enormously from the experience of Triathlon and am still growing and learning to live a full life despite having RA. I have also trained myself to render the doubters of my diagnosis irrelevant. To the doubters I say, you are entitled to your opinions, but you will never experience my truth.

My truth is that although I’ve learned how to maintain racing despite the chronic pain and chronic fatigue, I cannot physically continue to put my body through this exhaustion. My condition has deteriorated due to a demanding training and competition schedule. If I don’t give my body a chance to heal, I risk developing irreversible damage.

After extensive thought and discussions with my physician, family and those closest to me, I am formally announcing my permanent withdrawal from Triathlon. This has been one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make.

I am very proud of my 5 years in Triathlon. I appreciate the experiences, the traveling and the spirit of the sport. I appreciate what Triathlon taught me – discipline, personal accountability, and responsibility. I will forever remain grateful for the opportunity to have represented the Rheumatoid Arthritis community in the sport. I thank, from the bottom of my heart, those RA warriors on the ground who have supported me through the years. You all kept me in the sport much longer than I could have managed without you.

I’m still on a journey of healing. I am managing my condition in the best way possible with the best medical team available. I will be kind to my body for the first time in five years and I hope it responds with joy.

I have not and I will not give up my fight with RA. I still work out 5 days a week, just not at a competitive training level. I haven’t and I will not lose hope that one day I will fully recover; one day, Rheumatoid Arthritis will have a cure.

I cherish my memories in the sport. I cherish my continuing involvement in the RA community and the many friends and followers I have there. I haven’t given up – quite the opposite.

To those in Triathlon who would call themselves my supporters, to other Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers, to my friends, I pass on these words,

“Yesterday no longer exists so cannot be changed. Tomorrow does not yet exist but can be made into whatever you focus on and bring to it.”

 

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This entry was posted on November 30, 2014. 4 Comments

Endurance Athlete improves Rheumatoid Arthritis with Dietary Changes

Endurance Athlete improves Rheumatoid Arthritis with Dietary Changes

 

We are what we eat and what we eat DOES have an effect on our overall body performance and wellness.  What are you eating today and how is it contributing nutrients to fuel body functions?  Are you eating things that are attacking your inner body systems?

My guest is Triathelete and former model Angela Durazo who had several health challenges in her early 20’s.  She had to find a way to improve her health as all the physicians could not bring her back to optimum health, she had to find her path.  A gluten free and sugar free diet is the core of her plan and it is serving her well.

Do you hear all the media buzz on gluten/sugar free diets and just can’t wrap your head around the benefits?  Angela is here to proclaim the benefits and share her story of survival against the odds.

Listen to Angela’s interview here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/dr-jeanette-gallagher/2014/05/16/endurance-athelete-improves-rheumatoid-arthritis-with-dietary-changes

 

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This entry was posted on June 10, 2014. 1 Comment

Sports Palooza Radio show

I’m going to be on live tomorrow with Sports Palooza Radio show at 11am. They are taking calls so if you’d like to ring in here is the information: 646.915.8596

“Angela Durazo, actress and professional Triathlete, comes on to discuss her trials and tribulations of having Rheumatoid Arthritis while competing as a paratriathlete and pursuing a career as an actress.”

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sportspalooza/2014/05/22/sports-palooza-radio-show

 

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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. 7 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