Weight Lifting With Arthritis | Dani Makes It Count


Weight Lifting With Arthritis | Dani Makes It Count

The word “quit” is not in Danielle Bryant’s vocabulary. From a young age, Danielle was a star athlete, competing in basketball and softball throughout school, earning Varsity letters as a freshman and taking her high school softball team to the state championship tournament in her sophomore year. Dani’s future as a successful athlete was almost a given. But when rheumatoid arthritis (RA) struck in the summer of 1992, her body had other plans for her. Her RA  soon took her on a ride full of ups and downs, eventually landing her to where she is today: weight lifting with arthritis.

Dani Plays Baseball with RA

It was a few weeks before Danielle’s big state championship tournament game and suddenly a severe pain crept its way inside her body without rhyme or reason. In the blink of an eye, Dani went from a blossoming, unstoppable athlete, to a young girl who was in so much pain that should could barely get out of bed.

Dani tried her best to push through the agonizing pain. After an unexpected and devastating loss in the tournament, the pain got even more severe. One fateful morning, she woke up and found herself completely unable to move. She was rushed to the hospital as doctors ran tests trying to find the cause. It would be several years until Dani received her official diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Changes Dani’s Course

Along with her life-altering diagnosis and pain, came anger, sorrow, and even an existential crisis. “My once athletic, strong and healthy body was now full of nothing but drugs and disease.” she says. “There are many aspects about my disease that I never disclosed to even my dearest friends. I feared what they would think and how they would react. They had known Danielle Bryant, the athlete, but she was no more; she’d been replaced by Danielle Bryant, the RA patient”.

These thoughts and RA made Danielle feel defeated and beat down by the pain and the unknown. She was tired of living in agony and angry about the turn of events in her life.

Dani Active with RA

However, as unexpectedly as her pain arrived, a new mindset unexpectedly changed as well. After years of allowing her disease to dictate her actions, she knew she had to make a change if she was going to take charge of her life.

She could no longer allow this pain to change her in to an unrecognizable version of herself. She had an epiphany – she was no longer going to let her RA destroy her dreams, aspirations and life. With a new perspective and a goal at hand, Dani was about to take her life back in to her own hands and Make It Count.

Conquering Weight Lifting with Arthritis

“My first confrontation with RA began when I walked right into a gym and signed a 3-year contract. Shortly after, I curled my aching fingers around 3-pound dumbbells and with tears streaming down my face, I lifted them, beginning a transformation that would last a lifetime.”

Things were never the same from that point forward. “We have one chance at this life. Don’t let RA define your life – YOU be the LEAD.,” became her mantra and from there, Dani’s new journey of weight lifting with arthritis began.

Weight Lifting With Arthritis

As Dani continued down her journey to reclaim her athleticism she grew into the strong and resilient woman that she is today. The more she worked out, the more her natural love of exercise grew, as did her confidence and positive outlook on life.

Now, she uses her disciplined workout regimen to enable her to live life fully, making room for weight lifting with arthritis. Her alarm goes off on the dot at 4:35AM and she’s off to work out and get her joints moving. Whether it be a brief walk on the treadmill or a session of hot yoga, Dani knows the importance of movement on her body, coupled with diet, biologics, and natural remedies, she’s found what works best for her body.

“I Make It Count for myself each day with movement, which translates to exercise.” Dani explains. “This disease requires that I constantly move and stay active. A sedentary life style allows the disease to manifest in the joints and I want to do all I can to feel better by continuing to move.”

And move, she does. In fact, Dani is currently preparing for a bodybuilding competition on March 18th – the NPC Natural Western USA. She will be competing in 3 bikini divisions and to get her body competition-ready, she must put in extra work. You can find her putting in an extra hour with her personal trainer, giving it her all on several sets of seated cable rows or wide grip lateral pull downs, two of her favorite lifts.

While Dani may now make it look easy, she knows that weight lifting with arthritis doesn’t happen overnight. She has been through her fair share of blood, sweat, tears, including 8 total replacement surgeries on her joints. However, when the going gets tough, she no longer lets it get her down.

“I go back to the very minute my life changed when this disease showed up. I think about the times I couldn’t feed myself, dress myself, or even walk. That is why I am so committed to Making It Count each day.  We cannot take the simple things for granted nor the big things, like lifting weights. ”

Weight Lifting With Arthritis

Dani may have her hands full training for a bodybuilding competition, but the hard work doesn’t stop there. She also owns her own construction company, does a little bit of personal training on the side, and is in the process of starting up her very own nonprofit. One day, she hopes to open her own gym and set up a Walk/Run event. But for now, Dani is working on being the best version of herself she can be, while helping others Make It Count along the way.

“Where we are today means we had to take a journey to get there. I don’t want to ever settle at my destination.”

Follow Dani’s weight lifting with arthritis journey on Instagram @makeitcount4dani and help make a difference by making a donation today!

Article Author
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 15:04h, 08 March Reply

    This is so inspiring! When diagnosed I worked out 5 days a week but RA got a hold of my body and poof! Now I have faith I can do it again!

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      Posted at 11:24h, 11 March Reply

      Same. Been trying the past 20 plus years now poof. I feel your pain. Trying to get back.

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    Posted at 16:51h, 08 March Reply

    Wow, this caught my eye. I also have RA and I also have a trainer that helps me with my weight lifting. Yes, I still have RA but the weights have made a positive difference.

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    Jamie Dannemiller
    Posted at 17:23h, 08 March Reply

    I have RA and had to stop teaching fitness classes. Is it safe for us to lift heavy weights? I was told to stick with light weights. I am just curious what you think?

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    Posted at 08:52h, 09 March Reply

    I have osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease I was very active then my body just collapsed with pain, this is very inspiring. My sister has RA going to send her this article. I’m going to start too become the best I can. Thank you for this article she is very inspiring.

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      Posted at 09:49h, 09 March Reply

      Thanks sis needed to read this

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    Christine preset
    Posted at 09:48h, 09 March Reply

    Wow what an inspiration I have RA have been battling it for 2 years now on the biologics etc I have more weight to lose have lost over 60 pounds to date and I was losing my motivation due to the constant pain but I will not let this disease dictate how to live my life thanks for the story I really needed this!!

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    Posted at 11:41h, 09 March Reply

    This is great. I also have RA, a little over 2 years diagnosed now, on the biologics, and others, BUT, I also follow a somewhat strict diet, and I jog and lift weights at least five days a week. I would really like to communicate with others with RA that jog/run and lift weights, and compare the exercises and things that work for them.

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    John P. Lynch
    Posted at 11:42h, 09 March Reply

    Danielle, I, too, have had RA for a long time. Eventually diagnosed in 1968, I have used practically every remedy to deal with it and to have a meaningful life. As part of my weekly regimen, I swim and lift weights, both fixed and free. The endorphin release brings a painless and peaceful feeling. Recently, I published my memoir, Tale of an Old Katfish (2016), which chronicles my story and the stories of kids, teen, and young adults affected by JRA. I very much appreciate your willingness to share your story and I wish you success in your upcoming bodybuilding competitions. John

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    Posted at 08:57h, 10 March Reply

    I got diagnosed 3 years ago, and weight lifting has helped me a great deal, I really needed to read this though. Thank you for inspiring me 🙂

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    Posted at 13:35h, 27 April Reply

    How inspiring Danielle I’m also RA for 11years and my husband made a suggestion of weighing and I react very negatively

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    Posted at 17:35h, 03 May Reply

    I hope this is true. I worked out religiously for years and then I had to give it up b/c the pain was so severe, I just got diagnosed less than a year ago. Every time I would try to return to my workouts, I would flare and be back where I started. I haven’t gotten on any biologics yet. I tried holistic first and it did help decrease swelling and pain, but it hasn’t disappeared. Reading about many people who have returned to weights and running while having RA gives me hope that maybe someday I can return to the workouts I love.

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    Fiona Greenwood
    Posted at 09:00h, 23 January Reply

    I’m so glad I found this article, the universe knew just what I needed! Thank you Dani 🙂 it is such a balance between being active and having enough energy for life, I sometimes err on the wrong side. I’m hoping lifting is something I can incorporate back into my life after so many years. Thanku!!

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    R Ellis
    Posted at 17:44h, 21 June Reply

    I was diagnosed in 2011. I use to play softball, tennis, rollerblade and when diagnosed I began speed walking and running but it seemed like about a month in my body would make a turn for the worst. I keep pushing but I can’t wrap my mind around pushing through bc my setbacks took so long to unclinch. Now i have neurological issues and even with vertigo, unstable gait, etc. I push myself to walk a couple of days a week.
    This read was VERY inspiring! Thank U n God Bless!

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    Robin Anne
    Posted at 18:18h, 17 October Reply

    What kinds of medication do u take to do this? I’m in a lot of pain and whenever I pick something up that’s heavy, it’s agony.

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