South Australian Katrina Smith has the world at her feet this weekend, defying a world of pain.
Despite suffering from inflammatory arthritis, Katrina, 22, will be competing with a team of 24 young women in one of Australia's biggest calisthenics competitions, known as the Royal South Street Calisthernics Senior Championships, in Ballarat, Victoria. Her team, Marden Calisthenics College, will be doing six routines over 12 hours, displaying prowess that won them the State Championships in August.
Yet just before last Christmas Katrina didn't feel she could even move, although she had been doing calisthenics since the age of four and classical ballet throughout much of her teens. The Sturt Football Club cheerleader was to discover she had inflammatory arthritis, the auto-immune condition that causes swelling in the joints.
"Before I started treatment I was finding it harder and harder to get out of bed," Katrina said. "My joints were stiff and sore and even doing something fairly passive, like driving, resulted in joints in my wrists and knees hurting. At first I thought I was overdoing things but eventually I realised there was something physical causing my pain."
Ironically, Katrina was and is employed by Arthritis SA whose health advisers are contacted by many people aged in their twenties, thirties and forties each week for advice about arthritis.
"Even though I work at Arthritis SA and know that arthritis includes more than 120 different conditions and affects people of all ages, I felt like I was too young to have it when I was first diagnosed," Katrina said. "It was a bit disheartening watching other people of my age partying, drinking, being normal 22 year olds - which I can't do on my medication - and doing highly physical things. Then I was watching the children with arthritis at one of our events and the reality that this can affect anyone hit me."
Katrina said she appraised what she could and couldn't do. She decided to give up her footy cheerleader activities and concentrate on her beloved calisthenics. Determining her abilities is a continual and complex process and no less complex than her diagnosis which is often the case. She had previously been referred to a rheumatologist more than a year before her diagnosis, but the findings were inconclusive.
In the interim, Katrina has been learning to live with and work around pain. She will be attending Arthritis SA's special free public seminar on pain tomorrow afternoon - World Arthritis Day - to get the latest information about what pain is and how one can best deal with it.
To attend the seminar go to www.arthritissa-painseminar.evenbrite.com.au or call Arthritis SA on 8379 5711