“I think chronic illness is a test of will”

Donald Hopings
Chapter 1
Planning Life Around RA

I was only 6 years old when I began experiencing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It started in my wrists, my hands, and my feet. For most of my life, I’ve been on a high dosage of aspirin for the pain.

Without a doubt, this condition has changed my life. RA has forced me to carefully consider everything I do physically, and to consider the potential for often severe aches and pains to follow each activity.

For example, I’ve been a fan of motorsports since childhood. For 23 years of my life, I lived only 17 miles from the Watkins Glen International road course. When I attend motorsport events there and around the country, I know I’ll likely be on my feet for five to six hours a day for three days in a row. I always make sure that I am on schedule with my medication, but I know that the three days following the event will be painful for me because of my RA. I’ve also learned that I need to avoid strenuous activity after these events if I don’t want to prolong the recovery period.

But these are sacrifices I am willing to make to do the things I love. Having RA is a matter of marshaling and conserving my physical resources.

Chapter 2
Ups and Downs

My biggest challenge living with this condition has been the uncertainty.

I’ve had a few long periods of remission with RA, but currently I’m in the middle of an inflammatory period, and I’ve had to start taking powerful medications again. These days, when someone asks me which of my joints are affected by RA, I tell them it’s easier to list the joints that aren’t affected. You just never know how long the upward and downward trends will last.

If I were to give advice to others dealing with similar conditions, I would say that I think chronic illness is a test of will. You can’t dwell on the low points, and you must appreciate the high points — because you never know when the next one will be.

Chapter 3
A Life of Adventure

Despite the way RA has shaped my life, it’s been jam-packed with adventure.

For example, because of my love for motorsports, I’ve attended events all over the U.S. throughout my life. I’m mostly an open wheel race car fan (Formula 1, Indy cars, spring cars, super modifiers, etc.), but I also follow motorcycle, sports car, and stock car events. The only major forms of motorsport events that I have not attended are drag races, motorcycle races, and air races, but not for lack of want. Circumstances and timing just haven’t worked out — yet!

Travel has played a large role in my life as well. I have visited several countries in Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. I even spent six years living in Taiwan.

And despite my RA, I’ve been an avid cyclist, too. I started cycling again in 2001, and I’ve truly enjoyed the time I have spent riding by myself. I’ve slacked off over the last few years due to health and work, but I’m in the process of turning that around now that I’ve retired in California where the climate is warmer.

A few years ago, at a higher level of fitness than I currently have, I could go on a 60-mile bicycle ride. That has been one of my greatest accomplishments in the face of my RA. Now, I’m getting back on the bike and working to reach that level again.