RA is a Kick in the Pants
On a whim, I took a kickboxing class when I was a 21-year old college student. I was looking for an interesting workout, and the physicality of kickboxing appealed to me. Enthusiastic after attending my first class, with subsequent classes I became slightly obsessed. As a child I was never particularly athletic, and I struggled with knee pain and several long bouts of illness (in retrospect, I wonder if it was actually Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis). I didn’t go out for a sport until I was 13. At that time I played soccer, which I loved, but had to give up four years later when the doctor said the cartilage in my knees was wearing down (again, I’m curious if that was actually JRA). After a childhood athletic career that was sporadic at best, kickboxing made me feel strong, disciplined and powerful. The class was offered four times a week, and cost a flat monthly fee regardless of how many classes one attended. It wasn’t long before I was going to class every night it took place.
I was soon in amazing shape. My balance, strength, and muscle tone all improved. Most of my classmates were female, and many of the ladies were more interested in the aerobic workout than the martial arts aspect of kickboxing. Therefore, I always paired up with a guy or with the one other female in the class who was as serious about mastering form and technique as I was. After class ended, I stayed to spar with the guys each night. They appreciated that I went all in for the fight, and while headgear protected my face, I soon began to collect bruises up and down my arms and legs. I wore them as badges of honor, symbols of how tough my body had become. Every night after class I went home and soaked in a hot tub (for the muscle soreness) eating grapefruit slices (which I’d been told would help with the bruising) and reveled in the power of my body.
After several months of kickboxing, I took a sabbatical from my workouts when I went to study abroad in England for a semester. It was there that rheumatoid arthritis took my body by storm. I didn’t yet have a name for what was happening to me, but most of my joints were swollen, I was in pain, and I was extremely tired. When I returned home, I began my search for a diagnosis, and felt depressed by what was happening to my body. Whereas only a few months prior I’d felt at my most powerful, now my fingers were too swollen to make a fist, let alone punch forcefully at a strike pad.
Generally, I don’t feel that I have missed out on many goals due to having RA. I’ve often had to change my anticipated timeline due to the condition, but I’ve been able to lead a fulfilling, active life. Yet, I still have times where I really miss kickboxing. A few months ago a kickboxing workout studio opened up right down the street from my house. The memories of the state my body was in 16 years ago and the confidence I felt have left me longing to stop in. I even visited the website to look up schedules and class prices. I’ll get excited about the notion of returning to kickboxing, but then I have to pause and do a reality check, thinking about what the impact of a punching bag would feel like on my fingers and my wrists, and how my hips would ever handle rounds of roundhouse kicks. With a sigh, I resign myself to the happy memories of what my body once was, and try to take comfort in knowing that at least I went for that experience while my body was still capable of not only enduring it, but excelling at it.
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