When diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a child, Kristy McPherson, now 36, was told she would never play competitive sports again. She is now a professional golfer on the LPGA tour, and shares a little about how she manages that life every day.
HealthCentral (HC): Do you ever have issues with people in your profession not understanding the complexity of your condition?
Kristy: Yes, I often get people that do not understand RA or do not understand my bad days. I usually don’t mention when I’m having a bad day, but sometimes my best friends just know. I’ve had friends tell me that they wish that they could jump in my body and feel my pain on bad days. I usually explain it as feeling like you have the flu. And no one wants the flu.
HC: How does your condition most affect your life as a professional athlete?
Kristy: I would say I am most affected on cold and rainy days. Every day it takes a little while to get up and get moving. But I have come to understand my body and what I need to do to prepare to play. Sometimes I have to adjust my swing a little on the bad days. But over many years I have learned how to deal with the pain and the days that I am most stiff and achy.
HC: As a pro athlete, do you have any advice for people trying to stay active with RA?
Kristy: Stay active! It is so easy to not feel well and want to just sit around and be mad that you are in pain. But getting up and staying active is one thing that will help. Just because you have RA, doesn’t mean you can’t get up and do everything that anyone else would do. And surely doesn’t mean that you can’t be a professional athlete. Some days will be harder for sure. But nothing feels better than pushing through those days and feeling that sense of accomplishment.
HC: What areas flare up for you? Do certain things cause the flare ups, or are they random?
Kristy: I haven’t had a serious flare up in quite a while. Like I said, the cold rainy days are the toughest for me. And with golf you have to be outside for 7-8 hours so it becomes a tough day. I do find that some food will cause a bit of a flare up, so I try to avoid fried foods, for one. I’ve heard black pepper is one of the worst things for RA, but I can’t go without pepper so I’ll take my chances.
HC: Do you have a routine (diet, stretches, certain exercises, etc.) that you have found keeps you prepared for the physical exertion of being an athlete?
Kristy: I have learned to listen to my body, especially on the bad days. I definitely allow a little more time in the mornings to loosen up my joints. I try to have somewhat of a good diet — the best that you can do for being on the road nine months out of the year. It’s like any disease or anything in life: You have to listen to your body. I’ve had it a little tougher than most when it comes to joint pain and body aches, but I’ve had it pretty dang good and have had a great life living with RA. I’ve always said that getting RA was the best thing that ever happened to me. It led me to God, golf, the University of South Carolina, and all the people who are so important in my life now, so getting RA is a blessing to me. Living with it can sometimes be a challenge, but I’m always up for a good challenge!
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Emil DeAndreis is a baseball coach, and an English professor at College of San Mateo. His memoir, Hard To Grip, chronicles his journey of losing a professional baseball career to rheumatoid arthritis. He lives in San Francisco with his wife. Follow along with Emil on Twitter.