I'm 34 years old. I am married to the love of my life, have 4 wonderful kids, suffer from AS and I race motorcycles.
I was diagnosed with AS when I was 20 years. Others in my family had arthritis but I didn't make the genetic connection. I started experiencing sporadic but severe pain in what I thought was my hip at the age of 19. When my back and Achilles' tendons started giving me trouble I decided to seek professional help. The next two years were brutal. Nothing the doctors prescribed seemed to help very much. I needed a cane to get around. The simplest everyday tasks seemed to take an enormous effort. There I was, 21 years old, just out of college with my whole life ahead of me and a body that was betraying me. It was a huge shock to me, since, at that age I still figured that I was invincible. I couldn't visualize spending the next 60 years in that condition.
I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel sorry for myself. I definitely spent a lot of time sitting around pitying myself. I don't know whether there was a single moment of revelation or if it was a gradual realization; but at some point I decided that I had better get on with it. I decided to take control of my life and made a short mental list of things not to do:
Don't get wrapped up in self-pity, it interferes with getting on with life.
Don't let medical professionals make decisions. They provide advice, I have the final say.
Don't let the disease define me. There are a lot of words that describe me more appropriately than "arthritic" or "sufferer."
Anyhow after my attitude improved, things started to get better. I no longer need a cane but still have pain every day. Its often challenge to walk without limping and I do have some excruciating nights. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some bad days. I have had iritis, suspect that I may have some GI tract issues (still in denial) and have episodes involving jaw, neck, ribs, spine, sacroiliac, knees and ankles. I have issues with fatigue at times. (Sounds worse when I write it out that way.)
I've tried several flavours NSAIDs and currently take Celebrex. I stretch every morning and do my best to stay active.
Getting Into Racing:
Until recently, I rode a motorbike on the street but never on a track. I always dreamed of racing. Problem was that the real world got in the way, career, family, my physical condition, finances etc., etc. When I turned 30, I realized that if I wanted to race, it was now or never. I bought a smashed motorbike and spent over a year getting it race ready. I signed up for a race school at nearby track. After a morning of classroom instruction, they took us out on the track where I promptly crashed. I was unhurt but scared out of my mind. Some of the more experienced guys patched my bike back up, ignored my excuses and pleas and sent me back out. After a while the excitement factor outweighed the fear factor and I was hooked. I'm now in my third year of racing and loving every minute of it. I'm not the fastest by any stretch but racing and losing is better than not racing at all.
I currently race a 1989 Honda Hawk NT 650. Its a 650 cc V-twin. It started life as a street bike but has been modified for racing. All of the lights and signals have been removed as well as any equipment that is not deemed critical for racing. The bike has racing bodywork, racing exhaust system, internal engine modifications, racing suspension and really sticky tires. All bolts and drain plugs that are critical for safe operation have been wired in place with aircraft safety wire.
I'm guessing that the bike hits over 130 mph on the track but I don't know for sure since the speedometer has been removed for weight savings.
Safety gear for this kind of sport is obviously very important. The idea is to completely encase your body in various types of protection.
The suit you see in the photos is made of very thick leather and is stuffed with both hard and soft armour. It is designed to absorb both impact and abrasion in the event of a crash. There is padding over the shoulder, hips, elbows and spine. The knees have padding inside as well as hard plastic pucks to drag on the ground in the turns. My suit cost more than my first racebike. I have had the misfortune of testing it on four occasions and it does its job well.
The helmet is a typical street bike helmet. Its full-faced, meaning it covers your entire head including your chin. Most club racers don't spend big bucks on the fancy helmet graphics since once crash can scuff a helmet beyond use. A visor is also mandatory. Like the suit, the gloves and boots are also strategically padded and reinforced.
What Its Like
I'm sure that each and every person that races with me would describe it differently. There is no feeling that compares to sitting on the starting line, hearing all the revving engines and waiting for the starter to drop the flag. The adrenaline rush is incredible. There is no feeling like it. Once the race starts, you have no choice but to focus. A wandering mind is dangerous on the track.
Basically, you accelerate as hard as you can up to the corner, brake as hard and as late as you can and then lean the bike through the corner, then you accelerate as early and as hard as you can and proceed to the next corner. There is a fast line for each rider and bike around a track. Its an invisible path around the track that gives you the quickest time. Take a corner too wide or ride over a rough section and your lap time will suffer. Passing or being passed can cause you to leave that line. It can also be quite hairy - people can pass pretty closely. When you are riding well everything flows together smoothly from corner to corner.
The sport is much more physically demanding than it appears. It involves more than sitting on the seat and twisting the throttle. You are constantly shifting from one side of the bike to the other. Your butt isn't on the seat very much. You keep your centre of gravity low in the turns by hanging off the side of the bike. You basically hook your leg over the seat and lean way off the bike and drag your inside knee on the asphalt. That feels pretty cool when you get it just right. All of the acceleration and hard braking is done with the right hand. My wrist can get pretty sore after a race. Combine all of this with the fact that it can be really hot inside a 30 pound leather suit and you can understand why cardio fitness is important.
If you race you are going to crash eventually. I have had a couple high speed crashes that involved tumbling across the track. Luckily my safety gear did its job and I was basically unharmed. Unconscious for a few minutes, a few scuffs to my suit and a raw spot on my hand where my glove wore through on the asphalt. There is always trained emergency staff at the track just in case. None of my tumbles have exacerbated my condition as far as I can tell.
Having AS probably slows me down somewhat. I don't have the stamina that some of the racers do. Also, I may be a little more tentative than others; its hard to hang off the bike when your hip is killing you. My wife, Alanna is surprised at how I can limp around all week and then jump on the racebike when the weekend comes. I think the excitement of it all tends to allow me to ignore most of the aches and pains for the weekend. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.