Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Real Deal: Running with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Written By: Angela Shatting
The first time I met Dina Neils I was a small child in an unusual situation. I was at her house visiting my cousin who was living with her family as a foster child. I remember two things about that visit. 1: my cousin was happy, healthy and I knew she was safe. 2: the house was a blast and full of love, energy and kids! From then on Dina and my cousin were best friends and the Neils’ were family. I saw Dina from time to time and again when we went to the same High School. My memory of her in High School is that she ran. She ran a lot. She ran at lunch, when I was doing less productive activities, and seemed to always be going running, just finished running or running. My cousin updated me from time to time on Dina and Facebook gave me small glimpses into her life. When I clicked a link to an article about her I was floored to read her story. I’ve been looking at pictures of her on Facebook for years (pictures shown below). How did I miss Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Dina's hips
At age 18, as a freshman in college, Dina was diagnosed with chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis. She was a competitive runner, living on her own for the first time and now fighting a chronic disease with severe pain. She cared for herself and worked as a student, all the while, feeling like her life was over.  Her doctor gave her the grim diagnosis of being in a wheel chair by her mid 20’s and never running again. For 7 years Dina was considered “chronic” and lost mobility in her hips. In constant pain and feeling defeated, Dina quit running. In just a few short years she had both hips completely replaced and had to relearn how to walk…TWICE!

But Dina wouldn’t stay down for long. She refused to accept her doctors’ bleak outlook and with the support of friends and family, she stayed strong and worked hard. For the past 2-3 years the pain and inflammation has lessened and Dina is back out there! She is running again and simply stated, “The fight is paying off, I’ve got ‘me’ back”.  It took 10 years for Dina to find her way back to running, “It wasn't easy, it was painfully difficult - mentally and physically” Dina says. After hearing about her struggles and knowing how challenging running can be, I couldn’t help but wonder “why run?”. Why not swim, cycle, do yoga or anything else less taxing on the body. When I posed the question to Dina her response was simple, “Not being able to run was very difficult for me. I explored other activities like swimming, hiking, biking - but nothing compared to the challenge and the satisfaction of running (not even close). Not sure how else to describe it, it's a passion that all true runners understand - even though I wasn't able to run for many years, that passion never left me. It's part of who I am, and that will never change.”

Fueled with passion and drive, Dina is back to running….and I mean running. After years of competing, she isn’t settling with a jog around the track. In the past year she ran two 5k’s, one 12k, one 10k and is running the Eugene Marathon (half marathon) at the end on the month. She trains 6 days a week, running 3 days and cross-training 3 days. As her Facebook friend, I see Dina’s post/photos about her runs and she’s fast! Her “recovery runs” can be considered a tempo run for many, myself included.
Some girly inspiration for Dina
After learning more about Dina’s story I realized why following her on Facebook didn’t reveal the struggles she’s been fighting these past 10 years. One reason is because I’m great at skimming and not reading. But the real reason is because every post of Dina’s is positive and upbeat with a smiling face. Skimming over her fun and happy photos, one doesn’t see pain, disease, despair, fear, Rheumatoid Arthritis or anything of the sort. They see a strong, happy, healthy, inspirational, survivor!

Next time I don’t want to run, feel slow or weak; I’m going straight to Dina’s Facebook page, thanking my body for being healthy and hitting the road! Dina’s love for running is infectious, she wrote, “Running is not just a sport to me, it’s almost like a way of life. When the run gets hard and my legs feel like giving out, that is when I push harder and don’t give up – it’s were I find my true self and when I feel the most alive.”  Talking with Dina I can’t help but feel inspired to run! She is the real deal, a “true runner”, not because of speed, distance or race wins; but because she LOVES running, lives running, breathes running and dreams of her body running.

Dina is sharing her story to make a difference and help find a cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis. She wants people to hear her message and says “What drives me the most, in my most challenging times, is knowing that there are people who see me as an inspiration. I never imagined that my struggles and triumphs would be a source of strength, hope, and inspiration in others’ lives - what a powerful thing that is…Do not let a disease or diagnoses define who you are – do not let it take away who you are. Do not let the doctors dictate your life. You have the strength to fight this battle. When it seems like there is no hope, do not give up – fight harder. Stay positive and love yourself, because you are amazing and are stronger than you realize”…..the real deal.

Today Dina Neils is 28 and lives in Elk Grove, California with her two dogs and boyfriend. She works full time and trains regularly. Her RA is doing the best it's ever been and although she continues to fight pain, discomfort and a weakened immune system, she hopes to be in full remission this year. Her doctors say it looks good!

You can help Dina find a cure by making a donation at her Racing For A Cure page or at the Arthritis National Research Foundation.
Dina posted this picture of her shirt of Facebook witht the caption, "Boom! So people running behind me know they are getting beat by a girl with metal hips", I love it!


John Knotts said...

Super inspirational! Thanks for sharing!

theolivevan said...

Thanks John!

Lori said...

Wow! How inspirational!!