Committing to a Team With an Unpredictable Illness

I’ve been figure skating for much longer than I’ve been chronically ill. To me, nothing is more freeing than gliding across the ice, carving grooves with my blades, and feeling the wind generated by my own speed. When I got ankylosing spondylitis (AS), I was afraid I’d lose that feeling forever.

Fortunately, I found a medication that allows me to skate. But even with medication, skating is incompatible with chronic pain. My arthritic body is strained by the impact of jumping and falling repeatedly and the contortion required for certain moves. However, there is one thing about skating that works well with chronic pain: it is (mostly) an individual sport.

This means that I skate by myself, for myself

No one is relying on me or my dysfunctional body. When my pain stops me, the only person I’m letting down is myself. I can adjust my training based on my pain levels and only push myself as far as I can go.

Participating in an individual sport has worked well with my AS. But recently, I was given an opportunity to try something new: synchronized skating. It’s one of the exceptions to skating being an individual sport. Synchronized skating involves 8-20 skaters on the ice, forming patterns and executing skills. I was invited to try out for a team, and I loved it.

Unfortunately, with my AS, committing to the team for an entire year was out of the question. Sure, I could keep up during the try-out, but that didn’t mean I’d be able to keep up the next day, because my pain is so unpredictable. The thought of skating on someone else’s terms and having other skaters rely on me was terrifying.

I decided to attend some practices

Luckily, my pain stayed at a manageable level and I had a great time. I really wanted to join the team, but my AS tugged in the back of my mind. What would the team think of my illness? How would they react if I had a flare-up and couldn’t skate? Would they even want me on the team?

And I joined the team

These worries stayed with me, but they were overpowered by my love for skating. I decided to join the team. I know what it’s like to be held back by my body, so for now, while my pain is low, I am going to take advantage of it. I am going to attend every practice, skate as hard as I can, and enjoy every moment. If my pain gets in the way, I’ll face it then.

In a way, I feel guilty for joining the team in my current, low-pain state. I feel like a fraud, a pain-riddled time bomb disguised as a capable athlete. In the next year, it is likely that my pain will flare up at some point, and my team will see the real me, the damaged, incompetent me.

I’m scared for that day. I’m scared of letting my team down. I wish I could rely on my body to give 100% to the team like I want to, but it’s out of my control. Living with chronic illness requires accepting this mind-body discrepancy. It also requires factoring chronic illness into every single decision. And sometimes, it requires making scary decisions, illness and all, and hoping for the best.

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