My name is Chris Stanford, I am 30 with a wife, 3 kids and currently residing in Sydney, Australia. I was diagnosed with AS in 2011 in NY, USA. As with many other faces it was a long diagnosis, I had varying symptoms since the teenage years and with treatment providing no ongoing relief I came to believe my aches and pains were normal and kept them to myself. I had frequent migraines, various muscle injuries caused by enthesitis, nerve pain which made it difficult or painful to sit, walk or just move depending on the day. I developed Carpal tunnel at 20, Costochondritis at 21 and married at 22 (ok so maybe this one wasn’t so bad). In the years leading up to my diagnosis I was working 2 jobs to support my family and felt that my worsening physical condition was due to the crazy hours I was keeping. In trying to touch my toes, I couldn’t reach my knees. I couldn’t lay flat on my back and slept sitting upright on the couch with two pillows to prop me up into the least painful position. I was 28 and felt like I was 82. In hindsight I thank God for the financial difficulty and 2 jobs I was going through because I’m convinced that if my life situation didn’t require me to move 18+ hours a day I would have had more fusion during that time. At the time of my diagnosis my only fused joints were my SI joints, but my Rheumy at the time gave me the wonderfully positive outlook of “In 10 years you wont be able to drive because of fusion in your neck.”
Humira was the second thing I thank God for… wow. Do I still have daily pain? Yes. But except those bad days I don’t take any other medications. I’m not normal but on Humira most days I can get away with looking normal. Back in Sydney now and with my local GP who is wonderfully supportive and does more for me than my rheumy to be honest – rheumy seems more interested in my condition than me :/. So here I was getting caught up in it all, blaming all my pains on my AS, blaming the fact I couldn’t run around with my kids on my AS, blaming my fatigue on my AS. I felt like I was damaged goods and never really going to be able to get back to the person I was before all this. So I ask my GP what I can do about my fatigue, he tells me to start running. I ask my GP about my Costochondritis, he says stretch it. For those of you that suffer with chest inflammation, you’ll understand that both of those responses were not what I was looking for “yea right” I was answering internally. Reflecting on it all later I decided, what did I have to lose? I’m already in pain right? I had some family that was getting into 5k fun ‘mud runs’ it didn’t really interest me (I’m competitive, especially with myself). So I’d heard about this thing called Tough Mudder, and there was one coming up in 3 months. So I made an agreement with myself that I would train through the pain. Do some running, and some bodyweight exercise at home for those 3 months, and if it worked out, I would do this Tough Mudder thing. It’s now been 6 months since that decision and I am now stronger than I have ever been in my life, and despite my family’s doubts I completed the Tough Mudder, and did it better than most!. I started out running 1-2km with aching hips knees ankles and neck, now I am running up to 10km (with everything still aching and some plantar fasciitis as a bonus). What I love about my journey is that although it hasn’t made my day to day condition any better… it hasn’t made it any worse. Now I don’t have AS as an excuse as to why I shouldn’t do something. It’s the reason I do it anyway.
This year I have 6 events planned:
April – Spartan Sprint (7km obstacle Race)
June(not confirmed) – Tough Mudder with my brother(also has AS) & wife (20km Obstacle Mud Run)
August – Sydney City 2 Surf (16km road race)
September – Spartan beast (21km Obstacle Race)
November – Spartan Super (14km Obstacle Race) I am not only pushing myself to complete these events, but to COMPETE in them. I hope I can find a way to raise awareness of AS through these events and bring some encouragement to other sufferers. We are all going to have different limitations, but don’t set yours too low. Our bodies were designed to adapt, even if pushing past your limit means walking for 15mins a day – try it. I’m so grateful I did.
These are just a couple of things I’ve encouraged myself with over the last 6 months. Find what drives you and tell yourself every day.
“I will only be limited by my ability, not my disability”
“I am a Competitor, not a participant” (In sports, in life and in spirit)
Thankyou for listening, and good luck to you all.
Don’t give up the fight!
New South Wales, Australia