Olympic Inspiration: Olympians Battling Autoimmune Diseases.
There were many inspirational stories coming out of the Tokyo Olympics. However one that may have particularly stood out to the LFJ community was that of Kirani James of Grenada. The 2012 400 m Olympic champion experienced major setbacks this after his diagnosis with the autoimmune condition Grave's disease in 2017 and the loss of his mother in 2019. But on August 5, against a stellar line up, James staged an amazing comeback to win a Bronze medal, his third consecutive Olympic medal in that event.
Graves disease, like Lupus, is an autoimmune condition, but targets primarily the thyroid gland, a gland at the front of the neck that produces hormones critical for regulating the body’s metabolism, and sometimes also the tissues behind the eyes.
James’ story recalls that of other athletes who have fought autoimmune disorders to stand out in their fields. One such person is famed US Olympian Gail Devers who battled severe Grave's disease that threatened to end her career. After embarking on an intensive and lifelong treatment programme, Devers came back to win consecutive Olympic Gold in Barcelona and Atlanta. She continued to compete with distinction until age 40 and today remains an advocate for Grave's disease awareness with the goal of making sure that millions affected “are under a doctor’s care”. She told CNN news:
"I believe I'm stronger at having to go through what I went through ... Everybody's faced with challenges. We all feel like sometimes walls are closing in on us and there's no way out. What do you do? You remember that strength and resilience that you have when you step on the line."
Off the track, famous tennis champion Venus Williams braved debilitating symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome for 7 years before being diagnosed in 2011, coming back to win gold in 2012 and 2016 Olympics. In an interview with Prevention Magazine in 2019, Williams had this advice for persons battling autoimmune disease. "Don’t be discouraged, because what [you're] going through is similar to other people," she says. "Talk to those people who understand you or have a similar condition, reach out, and build a [support] team. Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t give up."
As we salute our athletes who gave their all in Tokyo, we want to also recognise all our brave lupus warriors, everyday heroes who who defy the challenges and continue to step out on the line of life each day and inspire others. We salute you!