On November 1, our own Carrie Milton, and two other autoimmune warriors championed the first Active with RA, fundraising and awareness campaign for sufferers of autoimmune disease.

These three cause champions traversed Cape Town, South Africa by kayaking from Sea Point to Clifton, trail running from Clifton to Signal Hill, and paragliding off Signal Hill, landing on the Sea Point promenade.

Carrie joins us to tell a bit about her journey and what Active with RA is all about.

Sarah: Tell us a little bit about your personal story with Rheumatoid Arthritis and an active lifestyle.

Carrie: I’ve been through a few flare-ups over the last 20 years living with this disease. One flare-up was so bad, I couldn’t bend my knees properly to walk up a short flight of stairs, and I eventually had to have a partial synovectomy on my left knee to control the inflammation. For the last five years, I’ve been doing really well and that’s due to a combination of finding the right medication, making changes to my lifestyle and discovering functional fitness.

I happened to meet a personal trainer on the beach one day four years ago and decided to give his gym a try. Initially, there were a lot of niggles to work through. With my affected joints all being on the left side of my body, my form was terrible and movements like push-ups and pull-ups were horribly skew without me even realizing it. I also experienced some discomfort in my knees during the first few weeks.

But Franco found the balance between being patient and practicing ‘tough love’ when necessary, and we built up my strength and mobility to a point where my muscles do the hard work, taking the load off my joints. Apart from it feeling wonderful to be fit and strong at the gym, the best benefit of functional fitness for me is that it conditions my body and keeps me well enough to be able to climb mountains, kayak and attempt the occasional trail run.

Why is an active lifestyle important to you?

I’ve always been adventurous and have enjoyed being active throughout my life. I found it very hard, mentally, when I wasn’t able to escape into the wilderness or enjoy that feeling of pushing myself physically. While some doctors would prefer it if I didn’t do any major weight-bearing exercise (and don’t misunderstand me: we DO need to look after and listen to our bodies, being mindful of the impact of any activity on our joints), this is the healthiest and happiest I’ve been over the last decade. I’d much rather maintain this fitness and strength and enjoy being able to go on adventures than call it quits and “start slowing down”, which is what I was once advised to do. My choice might not be the right one for everyone, but I absolutely love getting out there and living life. If doing that means that I need a knee replacement a few years earlier than I otherwise would have, well, so be it.

You go on lots of adventures, what has been your grandest adventure to date?

This is a hard one. I’ve been so blessed in the last couple of years! What immediately jumps to mind is when I completed the infamous Amatola hiking trail near Hogsback in January. It’s a 100km trail hiked over 6 days where you carry all your food and gear with you, except tents. It was tough, but one of the most rewarding adventures to date! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, we hiked with a wonderful group of people and the sense of thankfulness and achievement I experienced when I reached the end point brought me to tears.

Tell us about the Active with RA fundraiser. Who is it benefiting from it?

The idea was triggered when a hiking friend and I started brainstorming about promoting paragliding on my blog. I realized that we could think bigger and do better than just trying to organize a free paraglide for me, myself and I. I already had a relationship with Cape Kayak Adventures and after a little daydreaming, the adventure circuit idea was born: to kayak, trail run and paraglide as part of the same event.

I got in touch with the Arthritis Foundation South Africa and they put forward a candidate to be our beneficiary: Judy Nel is a science teacher in desperate need of a hip replacement. She has been waiting her turn for almost four years now and if she doesn’t have the surgery soon, she’ll be wheelchair bound for the rest of her life.

On 1 November, three of us ladies with auto-immune disease completed the above-mentioned adventure circuit: a sea kayak, a trail run/hike and a paraglide flight. Two of us have rheumatoid arthritis and the third has multiple sclerosis. The three of us are all thankful to be well at the moment and I think it’s important for those of us who are well, whether we suffer from chronic disease or not, to do what we can for those who aren’t as able or healthy.

We all benefited from this event! Collaborating like this with like-minded people is a great way to both brainstorm and daydream, but also gain perspective and be reminded of what’s really important in life.

What were some of the highlights? Did any moments or experiences stand out?

The moment we launched and started our kayaking was quite special. All our hard work and planning had led up to that moment and it was great to finally be able to do the fun part and share it with my fellow champions and our generous sponsors.

There was also a very special moment when we reached the top of Signal Hill at the end of the trail run. My parents had recruited a number of bystanders to stand behind the Arthritis Foundation banner and cheer for us as we reached the top of the hill. What a lovely surprise!

Can people still donate? If so, how?

Yes, please. We’d love to build momentum and reach our target! The cost of Judy’s operation is actually over R200 000, so our event’s target is just a modest chunk of what she actually needs.

Donations can still be made at https://www.backabuddy.co.za/active-with-ra.

Who were your partners for this adventure?

Natasha Posnett and Christa Joubert. Natasha was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and got in touch with me to exchange war stories. We now hike, camp and train together sometimes. Christa is also a veterinarian and has Multiple Sclerosis. We worked closely together for a few months last year and have been friends ever since.

Our sponsors, Cape Kayak Adventures and Wallendair Paragliding, have been so supportive and generous throughout the last couple of weeks. We’ve loved working with them and I know that this won’t be the last adventure we share.

Is this a one-time event or do you see it recurring in the future?

Our Active with RA adventure circuit was the first event of this sort that I’ve organized and I dubbed it our ‘pilot event’. We are hoping to carry the campaign forward, encouraging people to be more active and to do what they can for the sake of those who aren’t able. We’ve already started brainstorming for our next event. Watch this space!

Do you have any tips or advice for others with arthritis?

Look after yourself, but don’t live scared. Finding the balance between these two approaches is hard, I know. It IS important to listen to your body, to follow the advice of medical professionals, to eat well and to look after your joints; but make sure you get out there and live too. Your mental wellness is just as important as your physical health. Be sure to make time to do those things that make your soul come alive.

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