I was 28 when I was diagnosed with arthritis, in February 2021. I was cycling in Dubai on a training excursion, when I crashed my bike quite badly. I fractured my pelvis, spine, and pubic bone, and was brought straight to hospital, where an x-ray during the rehabilitation process revealed that I was developing arthritis in my hip.
I’ve had quite a few accidents over the years. From what I understand, it’s not that any of these accidents actually caused my arthritis, though my crash in Dubai certainly aggravated it. If anything, the x-rays that I received because of my accident allowed me to be diagnosed.
The diagnosis was tough to deal with initially. I’ve been in a lot of accidents, resulting in more broken bones and surgeries than most 28 year olds, but the vast majority of these were healed in 4-6 weeks without any repercussions. My arthritis diagnosis was more challenging than any injury. This was something I’d have to consider and manage for the rest of my life. I couldn’t overcome it, or heal the problem in however many weeks. That definitely took a toll on me at first.
In the days and weeks that followed, however, I found myself coming to terms with my arthritis quite quickly. I knew that I didn’t want it to get in the way of my cycling career, and I became determined to keep active and set myself goals to reach towards.
I’ve always been big on personal responsibility and asking myself what I can do to improve my situation. I first got into cycling back in 2015, after a very low period in my life. Things got so bad I attempted suicide by crashing my car on a motorway. After that moment, I realised that I really needed to do something about this myself, or my life wouldn’t be worth living. I watched Chris Hoy giving a talk, and decided to set myself the goal of cycling around the world, as I needed a big goal to give me a focus. I haven’t looked back since.
There’s so much we can do ourselves to take responsibility of our situation and take back control of our own life. I started eating well and exercising. I went sober. These were things I had control over, that I could improve upon myself. I wasn’t offered much help or medical advice when I was first diagnosed with arthritis, but there was still so much that I controlled, and that I could do to manage my own body.
“When I was diagnosed with arthritis, it would have been easy to say “Oh no, this is going to get in my way”. Instead, I busied myself with the things I still controlled.”
Immediately after my diagnosis, it was quite painful even to walk – after all, I was also dealing with a fractured pelvis, spine, and pubic bone! I was told that cycling wouldn’t damage my body any further (as long as I didn’t have any more accidents!) so I started cycling again as soon as my body allowed. It definitely still hurt at the beginning, but after a few weeks of cycling training I felt as good as before the accident. My fractured bones had healed, and the muscles around my hip helped to protect and support the joint suffering from arthritis. I’ve tried to remain active ever since, and really haven’t felt any further pain.
If I had one piece of advice to someone who’s just been diagnosed with arthritis, it would be: don’t let your arthritis define you. See it as a new challenge. When I was diagnosed with arthritis, it would have been easy to say “Oh no, this is going to get in my way”. Instead, I busied myself with the things I still controlled, like improving my overall health and function. I looked into help from charities like Arthritis Action. I began raising money to help others living with arthritis, and I set myself a goal: to try and break a Guinness World Record for cycling the furthest distance ever in a week. It’s quite an extreme example of setting yourself a goal, but it certainly proves that arthritis isn’t holding me back, and I’m still able to achieve extraordinary things.
It’s worth asking yourself, “What goals can I set myself for the coming week, or month, or year?” Push yourself just a little further than you are right now, and you’ll be surprised what you can still achieve with a body that has arthritis.