Most people would never know by looking at me, but if you were to tell 13-year-old Melanie that in 10 years she would run a mile, she would never have believed you. When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Due to complications of my disease I was in the hospital so much that I had to drop out of high school for a year and I was sent to hospitals across the country on multiple occasions because no one could figure out what was wrong with me. My kidneys began to fail. I contracted an infection that should have killed me because the amount of immune suppressing medication I was on made it impossible for my body to fight it off. My joints hurt so badly that I couldn’t tuck myself into bed at night. I quit sports entirely. I was medically excused from all physical education classes. I had to spend most of my free time resting so that I would have the energy to take a shower. I got permanent ports put into my body for easier administration of medications. I missed my friend’s birthday parties and school dances. And for a while, ate more food at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, than I did in my own home.
August 1st 2016, was the day I first met all of you at the Jenny Schatzle Program. I was so nervous to go into a place of a bunch of fit people knowing I can’t even straighten my arms enough to do a proper push up, much less hold up my own body weight on my arms. I’ve never been overweight but I’ve never been able to go to the gym with friends or even go on hikes with them – as a 20 something year old this was one of my biggest insecurities as this seems to be where others my age find their identity. I thought for sure you all were going to tell me that you couldn’t accommodate me, or I would leave crying from discouragement in my lack of athletic ability. I could not have been more wrong. When I walked into the facility I was met with acceptance, understanding, modifications and my favorite thing COMMUNITY. (I was so unfamiliar with gym lingo that I had never even heard of such a thing as modifications before, but there has yet to be a workout that I couldn’t do thanks to modifications! #MelsModifications)
On the first Monday of the 3 week mini session, December 12th 2016, I ran my first mile since my diagnosis! I almost cried, it was the biggest accomplishment! I will forever look back on that day and remember that even when things don’t feel possible, they are! But it gets better. In February I had to have shoulder surgery because my arthritis was taking over my shoulder. Less than 3 months later, on May 3rd, I did my first ever 5k, which is 3 miles (Nite Moves) with you all! Not only did I complete it, but I ran every step of the way! My time was not near the fastest in the group but I DID IT which is much more valuable to me than the number shown on the clock as I crossed the finish line.
I’ve been doing the Jenny Schatzle Program for 1 year now and I still use 5 pounds for my bicep curls. I am dang proud of those 5 pounds! Sure there might be people three times my age to my left and right using three times the weight I am using, BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT ME.
To this day I take over 100 pills each week, in addition to the weekly injections I give myself. My bones have erosions in them that normally appear in people 4 times my age but that will never steal my joy. I feel lucky because each day that I am able to walk or run on the treadmill with you all is a blessing. I don’t spend 5 hours a week with you all to lose weight, I do it because the trainers and other people in the program have become some of my greatest friends and biggest cheerleaders. You have all affirmed my belief that community changes people. Just like my friends in college carried my backpack (and sometimes me) to class, you all have shown me how to intentionally support those around me. I cannot express the gratitude I have for the community that IS the Jenny Schatzle Program.
If you’re reading this feeling guilty thinking “Wow this sick girl did it, so anyone can do it” then stop yourself right there. Not only are you putting me in a box by thinking that, you are also putting yourself in one, and that simply isn’t fair. No one should be shamed into trying something new. We must do it because we believe in OURSELVES and not through comparing ourselves to others. Life isn’t all rainbows all the time. I still wake up some days, struggle to get dressed because the pain is so bad, and have to take a few days off of going to the gym. Each morning it is a choice to preach truth to myself, and choose joy. I know there are people at the JSP that have conditions even worse than mine, and I am so thankful to be able to see them for one hour each day and encourage each other to challenge ourselves based on our individual needs. We need to look at each other and say “Wow. She is beautiful, and so am I”.