We discuss in this interview:

  • JoAnne’s diagnosis of severe rheumatoid arthritis at age 50
  • Her initial attempts to reduce pain with medications
  • Doing workout with Larry Nolan every day and its huge return
  • Overcoming difficulties with perseverance
  • Building stronger muscles to take the pressure off the joints
  • The differentiation between discomfort and pain
  • Bone density
  • Balancing fitness and medications
  • Doing bikini contests and sprint triathlons

Clint – My guest today is from California. She is 62 years old, but she certainly looks a lot younger than that. She has used fitness and strength training to transform her life, reduce her medications, and build strength. She also even compete in bikini diva competitions and defeat on stage women 20 years her junior. She has been running sprint triathlons at age 55. Her name is Joanne and she’s a champion. Welcome, JoAnne.

JoAnne – Hi there! Nice to meet you, Clint.

Clint – We set this up because I recently had now a mutual friend called Larry Nolan. On the podcast, he said you were one of his very early clients when he was starting boot camps. Can you take us back to 12 years ago? I believe, at that time, we were in a very severe state with rheumatoid arthritis. What did life look like and how did you meet Larry?

JoAnne – Well, it was a transformational point in my life because I turned 50. My birthday present was a diagnosis of severe rheumatoid arthritis. A lot in my life going on as a female with menopause and so forth. I had all of this gaining weight, not knowing why. However, I later found out why. Then, I came to this diagnosis and I’m of the attitude that’s not what I want and I’m going to change it. I look to the universe and I say, okay get on board or not or I here I come and I started doing research. I found fitness and movement were key in arthritis. As well, I take a few as what my son would call, witch’s brew. I take a number of herbal supplements or plant-based herbal supplements to help with all of the effects of medications. Which, can offset toxicity, build my own immune system, and the elements that are affected by arthritis.

Clint – We can talk about those herbal supplements throughout this conversation. I want to hear about what the doctors were telling you about your diagnosis. Also, what medications you were on at the time?

JoAnne – It was pretty severe or they say it was moderate to severe. But what they had me do was take scans of all of my organs, and that’s odd. Usually, you get an x-ray to determine what kind of arthritis and I did not really have all the blood markers. Then they would say, this is rheumatoid. When they saw the damage and that’s when they said, this is pretty bad. Then, I had all of these ultrasounds and so forth of my organs. With that, it was pretty scary because I started doing research and that’s you don’t want it to hit your organs.

Clint – What medications did you start on right away?

JoAnne – I started taking prednisone and I don’t remember the dose because it was so long ago. However, it was a high dose and I was on the highest of everything. Methotrexate, which was really a hard medication on your liver. Then, I started taking that and nothing was happening. I dropped the prednisone because that is a steroid. Then I’m like, that’s 2 hits on the liver, and let’s just chop that and see what happens. It was better, but it was still not enough and I was still in pain 24/7. I was also still waking up in just excruciating pain.

Clint – Which of the joints?

JoAnne – I couldn’t even hold the pen and I couldn’t drive my car easily because I had to keep my hands open. My son would have to open the door for me. Also, I couldn’t sign my name and that’s out of the question. With that, we went on Enbrel and I started taking Enbrel. I looked at the options and I know Humira was out at the time, but I looked at the two and I chose Enbrel. I was taking Enbrel weekly with methotrexate. Then, I was also going in every three months for blood works or blood tests.

Clint – Let’s introduce Larry Nolan. Tell us the moment that you guys connected. I believe there was a discussion about a wheelchair for you on the table at that time. Can you talk us through this?

JoAnne – The doctors had said, the way you are rheumatoid is progressing at this rate you’re going to be in a wheelchair. While the doctor was discussing to me possibly ending up in a wheelchair, that’s all I heard. . With that, it is what I relate to, Larry. Then I was like, nope, that’s not going to happen because I’m going to work with you. To this day, he does pay attention to what I’m doing and he’ll check in with me. But he had other doctors tell him as a child that he wouldn’t be where he was because he had other diseases. I was one of the early ones in the park at 5 -30 in the morning or in the dark in the park and every day didn’t matter. It was just about perseverance and wanting to do it. Also, knowing that you can if you just push it aside and compartmentalize.

Clint – For those of you who don’t know the reference to Larry Nolan, I interviewed him on a recent podcast. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and Reynolds at 15 years old. He only recently went back to his rheumatologist a few years ago after not seeing the doctor for a very long time. It is because he used fitness and strength training to reduce the inflammation that he felt in his body. It certainly did not by any means follow the typical path of disease progression. The doctors did an analysis of him a few years ago. He tells that the doctor said if he presented at that time and he would not have been even diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The effects of strength training and physical fitness for him were amazing. He’s gone on to start at a multinational gym chain and done some amazing things. If you haven’t listened to that podcast, I highly recommend you listen to that podcast. It is a very fascinating individual with an amazing health transformation story. Now back to you, Joanne.

JoAnne – You’re my biggest cheerleader.

Clint – You’ve started working with him. Now you’re saying it’s 5 -30 in the morning, you’ve probably got getting out of bed with morning stiffness. You’re probably in a lot of pain and you said you couldn’t even hold a pen. How was it in the early days trying to hold dumbbells, weights, and so forth? How did you work around that?

JoAnne – At the start of the exercises, I just couldn’t do it and I couldn’t even do a push-up. With that, I just worked and I just persevered. I didn’t use weights, started pushups on my knee, just modified, and just kept getting stronger. As this is the key because as you see yourself and feel yourself getting stronger, there’s the motivation. For example, I couldn’t do this like three days ago or last week. I used to tell Larry as a joke, I’d say I’d rather have hot pokers in my eyeballs. I do not want to run and there I was months later working those joints or moving and just persevering with the attitude. I can do that and I will do that. I was running a mile without stopping. Was it easy? No, it was painful. However I was like, the pain is in your head and your body can do a lot more than your mind will allow or tell you that it can.

Clint – That’s unbelievably awesome. I am so on board, which is why I wanted to have you as a guest. As to the benefits of exercise and physical training to improve arthritic conditions. I believe it is as important as any other aspect, if not close to it’s as equally important as diet and medication management and not having the wrong counter-productive medications. Can you describe even further than what you already have things that changed in your joints as you begin to do this? Did you notice the range of motion through some of your affected joints? Did you notice your hands could then close? Did it hurt less to hold the pen and so on? Can you recall those changes?

JoAnne – Yes, it was slow. it was almost as if the daily tasks that I would be doing all of a sudden I can do them. But I do remember little by little and it was like, I can open this door. Look, I can put my hands around the steering wheel. At the same time, I can remember this morning that I was out there at 5 -30 going, I can actually do a push-up. At that time, every month we would do assessments and I can see on paper one month to the next exponentially just doesn’t double. Your body and your muscles just get stronger. It means that as your muscles are getting stronger, that takes the pressure off your joints. It is because now your joints have the muscle that is doing the movements. Now, you can build up that fluid or that gel that is in the joint. With that, it is what I found when I started paying attention to that and not pushing myself. I mean, you don’t want to hurt your joint and that’s not the idea of it. But it’s going to be painful to push yourself and that’s where Larry Nolan was really cognizant. He can see it and also he knew me so well.

Clint – We talk about this differentiation between discomfort and pain. When we’re moving a joint that is inflamed or has had some structural damage, it’s going to be a little bit of discomfort. However, across all of the conversations, I’ve had in my personal experience. A little bit of discomfort, that’s temporary during the exercise, is way overcompensated by the positive benefits of pain relief that you get permanently by the process of doing it on a regular basis. If we do a little bit of discomfort, build some muscle, and reduce tendinitis by engaging that tissue. As a result, we’re going to have benefits. Then, if we can repeat that cycle, we’ll have an experience like you had. Muscle development, strengthening, confidence returning, and as you say, that motivation that you get when you see progress. In short, it’s everything is in it.

JoAnne – At my age, there’s an extra benefit for those especially women out there. I have a lot of energy and I’ve always had a lot of energy. Now that I have a lot of energy, I can go longer than people younger than me. I can do things, I feel strong, and I’m not limited. With that, don’t be afraid. Also, the other benefit for women is bone density. When you lift weights, you build your bone density.

Clint – Yeah, most definitely. It is probably the most underrated or the most under-talked-about aspect of weight training. It is because we’re so focused on the immediate pain relief but we’re really putting insurance into our future by doing that as well, and you are so on the money and that’s great. There’s going to always be the odd skeptic that watches these interviews and says, didn’t you go on Enbrel at the same time that you began working with Larry or around about that same time and raising that? Yeah, Could you tell us how you felt that it was at least a large portion of the strength training that alleviated a lot of your problems and not just the Enbrel?

JoAnne – The Enbrel relieved the pain itself and it didn’t give me any further range of motion. I didn’t wake up feeling good and you forget what it is to feel healthy when you’re always in pain. When you don’t have that pain, you think I’m good. However, I had a taste of what working out does and it is different. It is because Enbrel just takes away the pain. However, fitness itself takes it up a step, your body is actually going to be able to heal itself and use your own body. Everyone is different and everyone’s story is different. I was lucky enough to stop using Enbrel when I needed to. But that being aside, I can still feel the difference even when I am off and I do get a flare up. It’s not the same as I’m still feeling strong, but now I have a flare-up. Then I’m like, I can’t push that and I’m not going. There’s a difference and you can feel the difference.

Clint – I know that was a difficult question to answer. It is because it is very hard to differentiate when there are two things happening at the same time. In which, both have an anti-inflammatory effect and it’s the sort of answer that only a patient. It is because only we and our audience would understand. Thank you for doing a great job of explaining that as well as as anyone possibly could and I can attest to that as well. On methotrexate, it only ever took away 60% of my pain and there was that residual significant pain that remained. But it’s that integrity, robustness, and reliability of exercise and strength building that puts into your body that drugs can’t. It’s this knowing you’ve got the power almost that resilience that’s built into you physically, which sort of eliminates the symptoms that do not do. Thank you and that was very insightful. Before we began recording, you mentioned that you go on and off the Enbrel. Wherein, it depends on your personal state of inflammation. Then, you also told me that you have gone on and off at multiple times over the years. Can you just explain that to us?

JoAnne – Yes, I work closely with my RA doctor and she’s been with me almost the whole time. When I was really feeling strong, I’ve done a lot of fitness and I’ve done all these competitions. I wanted to see if I needed to take it anymore and I said to myself. what’s the worst that can happen? My doctor was on board with me because she saw that I really paid attention to my body. Also, she just had full faith in me after all this time and I agreed with her. At first, I’ve been taking my injection every week. Now I’m going to do it every ten days for a while. I’ll do it for a month and see how I feel if I still feel good at 100%. Let’s see what happens every two weeks. The first time was a very slow process because I did not want to harm my body or take any improvements that I made thus far and push it back. Slowly I was off it and I was offered for like two years with almost no flare-ups. We know that RA is managed and it doesn’t just go away at least in my case. When I had a flare-up, I went to my doctor and I said, I think I need my rapid juice. I went in to see her because I wanted her to see and she went to see my x rays. I was really cautious about it and I went back on. Then again I was like, do I need it? I think before I even went off that the second time. We said that we don’t even need methotrexate and let’s see what happens without the methotrexate. I was like, I don’t need that and it was as if I had never taken it. Now, I don’t have to have all those blood works every 3 months.

Clint – Did you notice anything with your fatigue levels, energy levels, by coming off the methotrexate?

JoAnne – I don’t remember.

Clint – Nothing that stands out.

JoAnne – Nothing that really stands out and I just didn’t think it added value.

Clint – Yeah. In terms of the cycle now, you said to me that you’re currently on the medication at the moment. Then, you’re starting to go through this thought process again of whether or not you might be able to taper. Is that’s right?

JoAnne – Yeah, exactly. I’ve had it back and forth a few times. I have psoriatic arthritis and usually these days it’s psoriasis that is a little bit more prevalent. I’ll feel it in my joints and I go, I’m sweating. But then when I go back on, I can feel within the first week the difference when I go on back on Enbrel. It’s that quick difference in my joints. Now I’m thinking, I’ve been taking it a while and I’m feeling very comfortable. I haven’t had any issues with psoriasis and I’ll talk to my doctor first just to make sure. Then, I’ll start weaning myself off again.

Clint – They’re just a little insight that I’ve had with working with a lot of people with psoriatic arthritis over the years. I want to focus on you, but just a little take away the more raw foods that people tend to consume. Notice that it calms down, particularly the raised inflamed patches of psoriasis that are quite very persistent and can be aggressive. It tends to quickly calm it down and that’s anything that’s raw. For example, lots of fruits, lots of leafy greens, green smoothies, and so on. It tends to be very calming to have patches of inflamed redness.

JoAnne – Yes, I love that and I like juicing because I do juicing too.

Clint – Yes. What did it feel like to be able to compete in these bikini diva exhibitions and competitions? I mean, how did you feel walking on stage knowing your back story?

JoAnne – I walked on stage and I wasn’t competing against anybody else. I was just walking on stage and just in my head going, I can’t believe I did it. It was really something for me to say, I can do this and they can’t stop me. It’s really about your mind, how your mindset is, and what you believe. You have to believe that you can do it and that’s really what I did. I was competing against, as you said, women who are at the bottom end of my age group. Here I am, at the age of 55 and I’ve had kids. But I was like, that’s fine because I felt comfortable in my skin and that’s really important. It is because you’ve gone through life and this is what makes me up now with everything that I’ve been through. It was really about for me and proving that I can do it.

Clint – What about with the sprint triathlons? Did you also have to pinch yourself at the starting line and think, what am I doing?

JoAnne – With that, you have to swim, bike, and run. I was never a strong swimmer, but I started taking master swim classes. With that, I had dedicated time and I had worked with Larry. It is because he was like, don’t do swimming and then do a shoulder workout because you’re going to hurt you and I had him in mind. But yes, in an open ocean and I was like, I’m like the sixth seal. However, I did it and I just kept saying, just do it or don’t worry, just move forward.

Clint – For people who are watching or listening and thinking, wow that is that’s a pretty high-end level of activity. Even people who have no apparent health problems would be very intimidated by doing a triathlon. We’re talking about only a few percent of the population or the healthy population are doing this. What confidence and life is this sense of achievement that does give you that you carry forward? I mean knowing that you’ve done these things, how much does that contribute to your sense of, I can do everything?

JoAnne – It contributes a lot because I was never a runner. I’d work out younger, but I was always slim, thin, and active but not like that. When I hear running, that’s torture to me and it still is, but now that I know what it does. I just have to make sure the music is loud enough, so I don’t can’t think of that and that’s how I had to do it. Since Larry Nolan’s boot camp makes you run, and especially in those days I was running anyway. I can do a 5 km run and that’s the other thing. Who can do that? I’m in my 50s when I started to run and all these little steps or these little things that all of a sudden are not torturous, I can do it and I’m not dying. In the end, you have to take stock of yourself and really acknowledge everything that you’re able to do. As a result, it gives you the motivation to do more. This summer I was doing Acro Yoga and I don’t even know if you know what that is. Acro Yoga is when someone is on the ground and you’re on their feet. They’re holding my torso on their feet, spinning me, and doing things. Who knew that was possible for me? Not me because I’d be like, heck no. Then, I just jumped up and started doing it because my body is strong.

Clint – Exactly. It is because your body is strong and those words are so key. We could put anything prior to those words in the sentence and end it the same way. You can do it because you know your body is strong, what beautiful words. What does it feel like to be JoAnne at 62?

JoAnne – It’s fun, I’ve raised my son and I’m still working. I have a full life, doing a lot of hiking, and I’m still at the beach to go boating or boarding. In short, I have a very active lifestyle.

Clint – How much control do you feel over your condition?

JoAnne – I have pretty much control over my condition. I have a flare-up, but then I know what to do. It’s the same way with lifting weights or losing weight or anything you want. Once you do it, you know what you need to do and you just have to do it.

Clint – Yeah, exactly.

JoAnne – Just have to do it.

Clint – Have you got any messages or suggestions to people who are watching this episode? Particularly those who find it difficult at the moment with physical activity. What would you say to them and how would you approach them if you met them just now?

JoAnne – Well, I’d say be kind to yourself, first of all. You just have to be kind to your body and know that your body can do it. You have to just be able to want to do it and just take that first step. The first step is the hardest step. The first time you go into that class, it’s the hardest class. However, everyone starts at the same place and everyone starts at the same place. No matter your age or anything because it doesn’t matter. Just love yourself and know that you have a goal. Then, don’t let anything stop you.

Clint – Earlier in the conversation, you mentioned you had a vision where you’ve created a vision of your future. What did that look like and do you think that it’s similar to what you’ve achieved?

JoAnne – A lot of it is as far as my vision of how I would live pain-free in an active lifestyle. It can be whether I’m taking the medication or not. My philosophy is I wake up and I’m grateful for that day because what is the alternative? When you start the day being grateful just to wake up, it’s just a better way of looking at things. There’s always another way of approaching your challenges.

Clint – I love it. Well, Joanne, thank you very much for imparting some of your wisdom to us today. You’ve got an infectious grin and smile. As you say or you didn’t say, you certainly have a youthfulness that really comes across and certainly it’s infectious. I appreciate all that you’ve shared and I believe this is the first time you’ve done one of these interviews about your health.

JoAnne – Yes, it is.

Clint – I appreciate you stepping out of your comfort zone. I hope our audience have have gotten some more motivation to become physically fit. They don’t have to become a bikini diva and complete sprint triathlons. Why don’t you finish our episode with what they should do and how they should start?

JoAnne – Just take that first step or you can go out for a walk. I just get off the couch, walk a little and then walk back. Then in the next stage, add a little more and it’s all it takes. Just a little out of time and it didn’t happen all of a sudden to put you in this position. With that, you have to just relax and let the universe or nature help you.

Clint – Thank you, JoAnne.

JoAnne – Thank you, Clint. Bye!

Clint Paddison

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  1. Wow! This was very motivating! I am 63 on Enbrel and Methotrexate. I have had RA since I was 30, still going but very slow. Want to learn more about what to eat and how to exercise. I am so glad I found you!Thanks for sharing!

  2. Very inspiring!
    I would like to have heard more about the herbal supplements she takes?

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