From Disabled To Ironman
By Julie Sadar, CTC Member and active CTC Board of Directors contributor
Most friends and family know my story. I shared it a few times during my 12th Ironman last Sat during the marathon and was told how inspiring it was and was encouraged to share. So here it is…feel free to scroll by-but if this helps give someone encouragement through tough times then it was worth the time to post it.
"Disabled to Ironman"
In my late 20s I became disabled. I was not able to go to the grocery or carry a laundry basket by myself. It wasn’t an overnight occurrence-but over a period of 8 months I put on a tremendous amount of weight and was in constant pain. I was still swimming and lifting; because I could push myself in the water and not suffer afterwards. I didn’t understand what was happening and finally got to my breaking point and reached out for help.
It took 4 years of advocating for myself-interviewing specialist upon specialist-needing to find the right doctors that would listen and not just judge me on first glances. I grew up a gymnast, dancer and cheerleader. I had always been active-what happened that I could no longer get out of bed in the morning? I was in constant pain. I finally-after so many tears and so much judgement, I found the right “team of doctors” that pulled up their boot straps up and were willing to work together to come up with some answers. This in itself was amazing as not all specialists are willing to work with other specialists to the degree I required.
I was in multiple organ failure. You see, the inflammation in my body was not just in my joints-it wasn’t supplying adequate blood supply to my organs or my bones. They were in essence dying. Constant tests and blood draws and we began to find some answers.
I began being treated for psoriatic arthritis, Hashimotos disease (low thyroid), sleep apnea, multiple vitamin deficiencies, multiple GI issues and deficient HGH (human growth hormone). I knew that if we were able to start treating the primary diseases I hoped many of the secondary would subside. The list is too long to list and really is irrelevant. I started on Enbrel for the arthritis. It wasn’t overnight-but eventually, after a few months, I woke up and realized I slept through the night without waking up from the pain. I realized I was able to get out of bed in the morning and walk without having to lay there for some time to move my joints before I could put weight on them. My constant pain was improving!
My incredible rheumatologist was in my corner the entire time! As I began to be able to move more she was always encouraging me (it helps she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis so she understood me). I started being able to move and regain my life back!
I was able to become more active, able to take off the weight (which has been a life long struggle). I found a wonderful friend group at the gym and started running with them and meeting for workouts. Baby steps. 5k, then 10k. My rheumatologist laughs that I am like a child, you give them an inch and they take a mile! Haha! I progressed to half marathons. Don’t get me wrong-I have a degenerative disease-the medication only helps slow the progression and steroids decreased the inflammation. I still have constant pain daily-it is just more tolerable.
About this time I was introduced to triathlon (swim-bike-run). I was already swimming and running-why not add biking-it’s non-impact! Dr Azem gave her approval. Well, I was hooked! I found my tribe! I had ridden a bike as a child but never a bike with gears and shifting! Haha! I had so much to learn!
I started with short course races-was introduced to Cleveland Triathlon Club-and that was the beginning of an amazing journey! The people I have met and the amazing friends I have made enrich my life so much! I have grown as an athlete and a person, words cannot describe the transformation I have had in my life. I approach each day with an “attitude of gratitude”. Even on the bad days I am a better person, athlete, girlfriend and friend and family member because of triathlon!
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how much this sport would give to me! I found that long course was my sweet spot. I am not the fastest. I have had set backs and challenges but even a hard day of training is so much better then being stuck in a bed! Friends have described me as a Diesel engine-I am slow and consistent! I decided in 2015 to push myself to the full Ironman distance (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and run 26.2). Could I do it? Would my joints cooperate? Was this possible? 2016 I completed my first Ironman-Maryland-the year of the flood!
It’s all about the journey for me. I have grown so much in so many ways! I fell in love with biking, and that is the area I have made the most improvement. Every year and every race presents its own challenges! It requires you to adjust and persevere. And I have had some epic races for sure!
As my joints continue to go through the degenerative process my ortho and I had to have some real heart to heart conversations. He will allow me to keep pursuing my dreams as long as my joint spaces maintain their integrity and I can deal with the pain. No one holds a crystal ball. Will I need joint replacements in the future? Quite possibly. But no one will know when that will be. I choose to keep pushing myself and doing what I love until I can’t! This sport has allowed me to travel the world and have some pretty spectacular experiences! I would not trade that for anything!
There is a legacy program in Ironman. Complete 12 Ironman fulls and you are eligible to put in an application to get a legacy spot to Kona in a lottery system. Kona is the super bowl of triathlon. It is held in Hawaii where the first IM was held! It’s a once in a lifetime experience-and one I never dreamed possible for me. It’s the iconic race that if anyone who is not a triathlete-the one they televise each October.
We found out last year that IM was changing the qualifications for legacy status in 2024. You still need 12 official finishes, but it needs to span a time frame of 12 years. As I continue to have more joint issues I know I don’t have 12 years of fulls in my joints. I never booked my races to get to Kona. That was never my goal. My goal was to keep doing what I love with the people I love doing it with, seeing different parts of the world and be living again!
Last Saturday I completed my 12th IM finish. (Technically my 14th completed distance-since we did 2 the year of Covid at home with CTC) Although it wasn’t a great race for me and I wish it had been better-I finished and that was the ultimate goal! I have had to walk more marathons then I would have liked-but I have finished! I have earned legacy status! I will put my application in this year and see what year I get to go to Kona. It is mind blowing to accept I have accomplished this!
This has become my lifestyle! Spending long rides with friends have become my ultimate joy! I love the training and the friends I have made! I am so blessed!
1/13/2023 02:03:31 pm
Thank you for sharing your story Julie! You are truly amazing! I am so inspired!
Rachel M Napolitano
1/25/2023 08:30:05 pm
Your story is so kickass and inspiring to just enjoy the movement and the company and the adventure. Congrats on your recovery from total shutdown.
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