Growing up I was an active kid. My dad was in the military, and loved sports, so all of the kids were involved in sports of one kind or another. I kept up with being active through high school, playing 4 seasons a year of soccer, swimming, and beginning the habit of being a gym rat. I also started really paying attention to my food and figuring out how to manage portions so I could be better on the field, but in all honest vanity, so I could look good in a prom dress.
After high school I didn't play sports in the same way, just the random pick up game, but did begin to further my interest in the fitness world as I started working as group fitness instructor and kids program assistant for the YMCA near my college. Like many college students, I let my nutrition fall by the wayside as I became more involved with the college life.
Toward the middle of my freshman year, I pledged a sorority, and during that time we still slept in the basement and had traditions very similar to those you would see in movies like Dazed and Confused. It was on that last night, before we official crossed from pledge to sister that everything changed. I hadn't been feeling well, feverish and pain in my back, side and stomach but I was powering through standing in line with my pledge sisters... I had come too far to give up because I had a cold I thought. But I was wrong, when I couldn't get up off the floor, couldn't move because of the pain, and couldn't stop shivering or sweating we knew something was really wrong. We called my mom, a nurse, to see what to do.
The next day I had a flight scheduled to fly home to North Carolina and meet with doctors. The ultimate result was that I drank a super chalky mix of disgusting tasting liquid for contrast and I would be put through machine after machine until ultimately we found out I had passed a very large stone, which had left debris in its wake, and had a kidney infection. This was how we found out my kidneys were a super popular place to find stones, and that I may have issues later in my future, but was told not to worry until I felt something like this again.
This was the first experience I had with understanding I had kidney stones, kidney issues in general. About a year and a half later, the summer before graduation, I found myself in the emergency room with crippling pain, fever, and so on. The doctors in this case didn't realize I should have gone in for a CT or that an MRI wouldn't pick up on what they needed to really see; and on my part I didn't know that kidney stones or infections were things I needed to talk about. After IV anti-biotics they sent me home saying it was a really bad UTI, looking back at this, as I became more educated, I realize now it was much more than just a simple UTI.
After graduating college I made a decision to get back on the fitness wagon. I got myself in shape, and also got myself certified as a personal trainer. I learned about nutrition and exercise, calories, you name it! I was in love with testing my body and pushing hard to meet goals, so started competing in physique competitions. Restriction, overworking the body, lack of sleep, overall stress on the body all added up to a set back and messed with my body chemistry enough that biology and I no longer communicated on a regular basis. Needless to say, when looking my best, I was not my healthiest.
Through my early 20's I battled small infections, but all that changed in 2011. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2010, and hit the ground running with my new job. I was even lucky enough to get to be sent overseas to see one of the brands we worked with here in the states. I tried to workout here and there, but not enough hours in the day, so as I flew home and my back started to hurt, I thought maybe it's the seat or maybe just all the travel, hoping it wasn't another stone or infection.
I had become so used to the idea of how a stone a presented itself, that I was on my way to get a massage since my back was killing me, I was talking with my dad at the time and said, "If this massage doesn't work out the back strain, then I know I have a bad kidney stone and infection, do not get on a plane until or unless I tell you I need you here, but I will let you know if I go to the hospital.
2 hours later I was in the back of taxi on the way to the ER of Northwestern Memorial. I called my mom. After intake I was told to take a seat and given tylenol as my fever was close to 102 at that point. Hours passed and I sat in the waiting room, I called my mom again and then she called the hospital and got them to get me in. The initial resident asked about my pain scale, I said 8. He ordered an MRI and typical tests, ultimately coming back saying it's just a bad UTI and I might be passing a stone but "you don't seem like you're in that much pain so I can't imagine a stone is what it is." I thought to myself, this is really not my night, I just want to not be in pain and go home. I was fully prepared to leave, and then it all changed, as someone came in to tell me we had a CT to do now.
Testing takes time, so a few hours later the director of the ER literally rolls into my curtained area with the phrase "Well I have some good news and some bad news". Bad news first.. I'm going to be staying in the hospital for a while and may need surgery. Good news, we figured out what's wrong with you. A 5mm stone is caught in the tube and it is infected, it has caused an infection in your kidneys and your blood, but we know how to treat it and you will be okay. It was the first time I had a blood infection, it became very common the next 4 years, and is still to this day a huge concern of mine each time I have a kidney infection.
This stay would last about a month in for about 10 days, out for about 8 days, and in for most of the rest of the month. In this time I had IV antibiotics of all sorts as not just one worked, I had multiple CT scans that showed I had about 15 larger stones in my left kindey, and speckles as well as 10-12 small and medium stones in my right kidney. In order to actually break up the stone and relieve my kidney they had to do surgery and further to break up the other stones to ease infection potential in the future they did lithotripsy and inserted a stint (the stint was about as long as my forearm, just for visual sake). I was released after all of this, I was told not to push it, so I didn't, at least not too hard. I worked and traveled for work, did lighter workouts and tried not to lift anything heavy. About a week out, I got the fever again, headache, nausea, clammy feelings, I took another taxi to the hospital. I presented with a fever of 104, the stint was infected and I had another blood infection, and came to find out later nearly septic. The rest of the month was a blur in the hospital and working with the team of Northwestern to really figure out what was going on with me and why my body was doing all of this.
There was no closure after trying all sorts of diet modifications, analysis of bodily fluids, another stint, all sorts of things.
The next 4 years brought about hospital staycations, as I started calling them, that typically brought me to the admitting area for about 10 days a year. I had to find something positive about them, and really it was "room service" and good chats with the nurses, I got to lounge around and watch good movies. It became routine, so routine that I knew to pack my laptop and charger in order to go to the hospital as well as a change of clothing and socks to get me through 4-5 days.
Through this time I experimented with diet, exercise, and anything I could find on line that seemed like it pertained to my situation. I don't know if it was or is directly related to Soulcycle and the gluten free diet that I began in 2015, but I give so much credit to those two big elements of my lifestyle that has kept me out of the hospital admissions categories for now 5 years.
I started riding with Soulcycle consistently in 2015, I had ridden in other states here and there before it came to Chicago, but when it opened in Old Town, it became not only a great workout place, but my sanctuary. It was a place that I could disappear into the darkness of the room, push myself as hard as I could, dance and sweat out (sometimes even cry a little out) all of the stresses of the day or travel, really anything. The stress reduction was big for me, but also the consistency of the style of workout. It was something that I completely enjoyed and felt powerful doing, but it was also a consistent workout that was not overwhelming my system.
From the beginning ride in 2015 to my more than 1250 rides today, I am proud to say that Soulcycle helps me everyday to stay out of the hospital. I have had set backs, absolutely, when I get a kidney infection I can't just do over the counter antibiotics, I need the IV kind and a 4-8 hour window for them to get into my system, followed by the pills at home. But the reality is I will take that any day over a week or a month in the hospital.
In a way to honor the way I have found to navigate my journey and to celebrate finding something that is truly helping me to stay healthy each year that I am not admitted to the hospital I make an effort to ride the number of rides equal to my age, in 23 days ending on my birthday.
Why 23 days? Well, my birthday is Dec. 23. This year I will be turning 38, so I will be riding 38 rides (rides at Soulcycle range 45 to 60min) in 23 days.
This year will be a bit different as I will be riding with my new community in New York for studio rides, but this year also presents an awesome opportunity for me to still ride with the community and family I started with in Chicago on the SoulCycle at home bike and with live virtual classes.
The goal truly is to raise money to help the NKFI to better achieve their goals, to aid in education, facilitate free screenings, expand the understanding of how to live with the many faces of kidney disease, and to help the families of those who may have fallen ill.
The challenge begins Dec 1 with a double, 2 rides that day, and as it's laid out now there's a quad day or two in there.. yes that means 4 classes back to back to back to back. I'm ready to challenge myself, challenge my body, grow the awareness, and do it with my communities riding with me.