Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Beijing Olympics

  • The Olympics are starting in a few days and I've been of two minds about whether to watch the Games. On the one hand, there is joy to be found in watching people bursting with health and ability going full-throttle for the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger). On the other hand, when you have RA and live with pain and loss of ability, watching people effortlessly push themselves to places you will never go again can be hard on the heart. Despite thinking that every now and again, getting through a rough day with Rheumatoid Arthritis should be rewarded with a medal, a bouquet of flowers and a roaring crowd, the reality is that these athletes are so far beyond my experience and my abilities that I find it hard to relate. Watching them, it seems as if those of us who live with a chronic, often debilitating disease have nothing whatsoever in common with an Olympic athlete.

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    Or do we?


    In the early 1900s, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee, developed the Olympic Creed -- a statement embracing the Olympic spirit and designed to encourage athletes to perform to the best of their abilities. The Creed reads as follows "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." And this is where I began to see a common ground between those of us who live with RA and the athletes doing their best in Beijing.


    In the quest for podiums and medals, in the hullabaloo surrounding the winners, we tend to forget about that Olympic spirit. We tend to forget that for the vast majority of the athletes who go to the Olympics, merely participating in the Games can be the crowning achievement of their career. That for them, it is not about medals, records and endorsement deals, but about years of lonely practice, of getting up every day and training hard, challenging themselves, of pursuing their personal best. They push through the pain, keep going, day in and day out, struggling with setbacks and injuries, return over and over again to the training that will maintain their strength and enable them to take part. For them it is not about finishing first, second or third, but solely about finishing the race.


    And here we are, we who have RA and every day, we get up and challenge ourselves. Every day, we train hard and keep going, we walk and swim to strengthen our muscles. We go to physio and our "coach" puts us through our paces and then sends us home to do it again and again and again, day in and day out. We do it on our own, somehow finding the motivation to push through the pain, to challenge ourselves to do one more knee bend today than we did yesterday. And sometimes, we get injured and need to sit out a game or a race and sometimes more than one, while we heal and then we start over again, returning to the training that will help us become as strong, as flexible as we can be.


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    We fight, we show up and we do it knowing we will never beat a world record, but we also learn that it is not about how well we do compared to our neighbor. We know that the training and the struggle is about one person only, one singular goal: to do our best so we can take part. And it doesn't matter if our best now is better or worse than it was a year ago. What matters is if it was the best we could do today.


    And if that's not the living embodiment of the Olympic Creed, I don't know what is.




    You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.

Published On: August 06, 2008