Paul Finds Solace From RA in Triathlons

Paul Finds Solace From RA in Triathlons

At just 33 years old, Paul Clay’s fast-paced, adventurous lifestyle immediately came to a screeching halt when he learned that his recent joint pain was due to a serious autoimmune disease: rheumatoid arthritis.

“I was upset, confused and angry about the diagnosis,” Paul said. “Everything I had dreamed of giving my family was in jeopardy. It felt like a sick joke.”

Paul began having mysterious pain and swelling in several of his joints and underwent multiple blood tests that yielded little results. After much frustration and suffering, he finally saw a rheumatologist who diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis.

Before his diagnosis, Paul was in top physical shape, married with two children, and had just begun working at a new job that he greatly enjoyed. In his twenties he traveled around the world, skied, swam, surfed and raced several marathons. As far back as he could remember, his life had always revolved around physical activity.

However, Paul’s passion for adventure was put on hold while he focused all of his energy on his number one priority – reclaiming his health. Despite his disease, he made a conscious decision that he was not going to give up anything.

Paul Clay

Paul’s treatment of his arthritis began by taking high doses of multiple medications. The high doses kept his pain at bay, but the medications drastically altered his body and mind. He developed mouth sores, had trouble speaking from a swollen tongue, experienced memory loss, and often forgot the names of people around him. Over time, the ruthless side effects took a toll on Paul emotionally and tore him apart until he was no longer his vibrant, thrill-seeking self.

As he sunk deeper and deeper, he knew and felt he needed change. After consulting with his rheumatologist, he reduced and even cut out some medications. Over time these changes actually led to significant relief from his negative side effects. He began to feel stronger, healthier, and fortunately, his joints remained relatively pain-free.

Most importantly, Paul regained confidence in himself. He started working out again and even entered a small local triathlon.

After that first race, Paul was immediately bitten by the notorious “triathlon-bug,” and continued competing in triathlons for the next four years. This past October, he pushed his body to its limits as he finished his first half-Ironman.

Through his triathlon training, Paul learned that for him the best medicine to help control his rheumatoid arthritis was not one that could be picked up at the pharmacy. It was exercise. He credits his cycling combined with strength training in his lower body with keeping his knees mostly free from pain and swelling.

Paul’s half-Ironman training took a tremendous amount of dedication and hard work. He had to be careful not to run too much or he would aggravate his joints. Occasional flares in his hands, feet, elbows, and hips led his running routine to often be inconsistent. Paul estimates that it took him twice as long to prepare for his half-Ironman as it would a healthy athlete. However, he is grateful he did it, because he reports that not only did it make his body stronger, but also his mind.

“[Early in my disease] I would have told you that I would not have lived to be 55 years old because of the harsh medication and pain my body endured. Today, I have hope again.”

Paul’s ability to endure pain will come to help him as he continues to compete and endure half-Ironmans. His ultimate athletic goal is to compete in the Kona Ironman in Hawaii, home of the prestigious Ironman World Championships.

“I try to make the most of every opportunity I am given. I am not telling you that this is the end of my battle. I am telling you that I’m winning!”

What frustrations have you overcome in your journey through arthritis? How are you winning your personal battle with your disease? Tell us in the comments below!

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Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 13:03h, 28 March Reply

    I have had Ra from the age of 5.I have gone through some difficult times at a very young age,morning and evening stiffness was very common things like getting out of bed or getting dressed are things we take for granted but for someone with ra very difficult tasks or holding a glass of water with one hand.Today at the age of 45 I remain very active which is something that has done wonders for me and has made my personal physician bring my situation up with other physicians.In 2012 I finished the Spartathlon a 246km ultra race,in 2013 a 100 miler and in November 2014 a 3:04 marathon.Currently I. Am training for the 2015 Spartathlon.When I was 15 I was told that I’ll never be able to become a pro soccer player(which was the dream at the time)and that I would never be able to complete a marathon(i have ran 15 and another 10 ultras).Today I still have occpassional flares but I try to be patient and do whatever my body allows me to do.I have also found swimming and aqua jogging really helpful.

    • admin
      Posted at 15:34h, 28 March Reply

      Hi John – Thank you for sharing a little of your story. We’d love to share it further if you are interested and we’d love for you to join Racing For A Cure if you have not already. Keep up the great work!

  • Avatar
    Karina K Allen
    Posted at 16:52h, 26 March Reply

    Hi Paul… 1st. of all congratulations on all your achievements… even for a healthy person those achievements are tough & take a toll on your body… now if we add into the equation RA… you are definitely an Inspiration… I was diagnosed w/ Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2012… I was training for my 2nd Marathon & I just thought the pain was due to too much training… it was a tough time when I was told about my disease… but didn’t experience any flares & did not know the severity of my disease until 2014… while training for my 1st. Ironman & even though I was able to finish my IM, it came w/ consequences… I realized the extent of RA… I was not able to move, to dress/undress, tie my own running shoes, button up my sweaters all the normal day a day activities it was over… I went into a severe depression… I had a dream Kona Ironman Championship too, someday… but my body was letting me know it had other plans for me!!! after several months of being depressed I learned to live w/ my disease & instead of letting it get me down… it gives me the power to keep moving forward… that someday I will not b able to do what I love ❤️ but that day is NOT today… I have finished 4 Ironman & 3 half Ironman!!! Wish you luck at Texas 70.3 Galveston it’s a very Fun race!!! Let’s work together, motivate each other… & we will see our Kona dream come true!!!

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