Rheumatoid arthritis: “Never stop dreaming!”
Published Apr 19, 2023 • By Lizzi Bollinger
Today we chat with Ashley Nicole, @ashnic_rawarriorfitness on Instagram, an amazing woman, who empowers patients with rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune conditions to improve their quality of life, while struggling with RA herself. Ashley tells us about her journey, from waiting for years to receive the official diagnosis, to starting her own business as a fitness professional. Discover her story!
First of all, could you tell us more about yourself?
Hi! I’m Ashley Nicole, Founder of RA Warrior Fitness where the mission is to empower women with rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune conditions to improve their quality of life through faith, food and fitness! I’m an Alabama girl living in a big Texas world and I LOVE IT! I’m a woman of faith, courage and resilience. I love to exercise, listen to live music and relax near the water (beach or pool).
Could you tell us about your rheumatoid arthritis: When you diagnosed? When did you started to noticed symptoms? How did you react?
I was diagnosed with RA officially in 2010; however, I started experiencing symptoms in 2004. I was in college and working retail part-time when I noticed my hands were bothering me. They became very stiff, sore and painful. One day I woke up in my dorm room to a full body flare. My entire body was in pain, so I went to urgent care in a panic. They didn’t run any tests, quickly dismissed me and told me to take Tylenol or Aleve. I did this for 6 years until I was finally diagnosed.
How long did it take to be diagnosed? How many doctors did you see? What tests did you have to take?
It took me 6 years to get a diagnosis. My issue was having access to healthcare and being able to afford to see a specialist. Once I was able to get healthcare insurance, I was still in denial of my condition. I gained 65 lbs which made the stress on my joints even greater. Eventually, I got referred to a rheumatologist. I’m thankful that the first one I saw was the one - I’m still seeing the same rheumatologist today. I did some lab work and x rays on my hands to get my diagnosis and it was undeniable that I in fact had RA.
How did you feel when you were diagnosed? Were you expecting it? Did you understand what was happening to you? Were you able to receive all the information you needed to understand the disease?
I was not surprised about my diagnosis because my mom and grandmother have RA. Once I got over my denial, it was easier to accept it and begin treating it because it had gone untreated for too long. I’m thankful for a great rheumatologist who educated me on the condition and gave me confidence that we could stop the progression.
What is your current health management regime? What do you think about it? What are your treatments? Are you satisfied with them?
I take a weekly injection to manage my RA. Although, I didn’t have to see many doctors to find the right one, but I did have to take several medications before finding the right one. I’m satisfied with what I’m taking now, Orencia. I also manage my health through lifestyle habits such as eating anti-inflammatory nutrition and exercising regularly.
What is or has been the impact of conditions on your schooling, professional, family or social life? What do you think is the most bothersome part of your daily life?
The most bothersome part of my RA is the inability to do simple tasks easily. Depending on the day, it’s hard to do things like wash my hair, buttoning a top or jeans, opening a jar, twisting off a top, picking up an awkward shaped box or item and not being able to lift as heavy as I’d like in the gym. I have tools and gadgets to help with some tasks and have used several hacks to make life easier; but it does get frustrating some days.
You talk about your fitness journey and medical story on social networks under the handle @ashnic_rawarriorfitness. What prompted you to do so? What messages do you want to convey to your followers? And what is their feedback?
I became who I needed when I was initially diagnosed. There was no one openly talking about living with and managing rheumatoid arthritis. There was no one showing how you can actually thrive with it. When I started my business, RA Warrior Fitness in 2020, I started to use my platform to educate my followers on how they can improve their quality of life through faith, food and fitness. My followers love the content and seem to look forward to learning new lifestyle habits to help them reduce joint discomfort and increase energy.
You are a personal coach for fitness and nutrition. Can you tell us more about this business? When and why did you start it? What has the response been like?
RA Warrior Fitness empowers RA and autoimmune women to improve their quality of life through faith, food and fitness. I started the business in 2020 because I was finally ready to fulfill my purpose and help other women, like me, to become healthier and fit while managing RA or chronic conditions. I want to inspire women to be the best version of themselves. Women are pleased when they find me knowing that I’m a fitness professional that understands what it’s like to live with a chronic condition. They often tell me that they’ve tried training with other trainers before, but it's not often successful because they don’t fully understand the symptoms of chronic illness. I turned my pain into purpose and power to help women become the Warriors they didn’t know they were before!
What advice could you give to Carenity members also living with RA or other chronic illnesses?
You have RA, but RA does NOT have you! This diagnosis doesn’t mean that life is over, it’s just a new beginning. Once you fully accept it, you’ll learn to manage it and advocate for yourself. No one knows your body better than you. Always be your own advocate. Never stop dreaming! Create a new life for yourself and modify when needed. You can still live a great quality of life with RA…you just have to believe it! Rise up, Warrior!
A big thank you to Ashley for this interview!
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