Red Deer running instructor Deb Campbell runs along the trails near the Bower Place Shopping Centre.

Runner refuses to let AS disease slow her down

Despite the challenges of having autoimmune disease ankylosing spondylitis, Deb Campbell marked May 3 — World AS Day — by leading her running group.

Despite the challenges of having autoimmune disease ankylosing spondylitis, Deb Campbell marked May 3 — World AS Day — by leading her running group.

Campbell, 46, was diagnosed with the chronic disease that attacks spinal joints eight years ago.

“Four years ago I was in a wheelchair. It’s so debilitating. You’re living with pain 24-7. It’s like someone is taking a hot knife and stabbing it in that area,” said Campbell, of Red Deer, who is also assistant manager of Wild Mountain at Bower Place Shopping Centre.

After wheelchair-bound for three months, Campbell said she decided that AS was not going to win.

Drug therapy and a never-give-up attitude had her back on her feet and eventually running.

First, she developed a learn to run program offered by Wild Mountain. Then she went on to run a 10-km race, then a half marathon, followed by a full marathon.

“Last year was the first year I did 50 km. That was just amazing.”

Campbell also lives with psoriatic arthritis, a rheumatic disease that causes joint inflammation and pain.

Together the diseases affect her spine, neck, hands, hips, knees and feet.

Campbell said she was lucky to be sent to a specialist and diagnosed early with AS.

About a year ago she started an intravenous drug infusion treatment. The impact was like someone “flipping a switch” and really helped her get her life back, she said.

Campbell was a runner before her AS diagnosis and she encourages others suffering from chronic illnesses to stay as active as possible.

“The worst thing I could ever do is stop. We’ve got to keep active.”

People like to say that running is hard on the joints, but Campbell said it keeps her joints lubricated.

“My doctor would not give me permission if it was a bad thing.”

She started running 15 years ago after deciding she wanted to give a half-marathon a try.

But running soon grew into a deep passion for an active lifestyle and creating health and wellness.

Judging by the number of people jogging on Red Deer streets and park paths, she’s not alone.

“Running is really taking over. Where I live in Southbrook, it’s faster for me to run to work than it is to drive. You hop on the trails and off you go.”

Campbell said if she can stay active, anyone can do it.

“It’s all about how you approach it. Does the disease control you, or do you want to define it? I want to define it and I want to do it as gracefully as I can.”

About 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians have AS.

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