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 governing 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:

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.

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.

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.

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:

Racing is my full-time job. I am contracted to race 14 races this year.

-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