Photo by Mary Pierce
Like many athletes, Kelly Crymble sets goals to run faster.And, during the last year, she did just that.
Yet, Kelly’s goal last year was larger than simply running faster. She set a goal to not only compete in the Platte River Fitness Series, but also to win it.
Organized by the North Platte Recreation Center, the 12-event series included nine runs, ranging in distance from 5K to half-marathon, as well as three triathlons.
And, in every race except one, she either won or placed in the top three spots in her age group, earning her the high-point total for females among competitors.
Not bad for someone who had never run until her mid-30s.
“Not one step,” Kelly said. “Not even around the block.”
It’s not that the 41-year-old wife and mother never wanted to run, it’s that she couldn’t.
Diagnosed after her first birthday with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Kelly, grew up at Lander, Wyo., on the sidelines of the athletic arena, watching her younger brother and sister play sports.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a common type of arthritis in children. The long-term chronic disease can cause joint pain and swelling and limited range of motion.
While some children with JRA eventually go into remission with little loss of function and joint damage, others, like Kelly experience the destruction of joints and the disease continues into adulthood.
“I’ve spent my entire life in and out of physical therapy and the hospital,” she said.
JRA affected many of Kelly’s joints.
“I used to have to wear all kinds of braces when I was little,” she said, remembering the flexible plastic braces doctors and therapists would slip onto her fingers.
“They’d put them on my fingers so I wouldn’t get the big knuckles. So to make it fun, they’d put little gemstones in so it wasn’t like these ugly little braces.”
In addition to therapies, braces, other treatments and medications, Kelly also has had several surgeries.
When she was 18, she had a metal joint put in her jaw.
Ten years ago, the joint in her right wrist was replaced.
While the joint replacements have eased discomfort in those specific joints, pain still is a constant companion, and has been since childhood.
Yet, don’t pity Kelly.
“My dad always had this theory. When things were tough he’d tell me, ‘If you never own it, it’s not yours. So don’t take ownership of the arthritis. It’s borrowing your body. Kick it out,’” she said.
While she wasn’t able to do physical activities while growing up, she found other outlets, including 4-H, Future Farmers of America and livestock and poultry judging.
“I used my mind instead of my body,” she said.
And, her life was full. After college, she married, and she and her husband, Jeff, have a daughter, Kelsey.
Periodically, the disease has gone into remission, including when she was pregnant with Kelsey.
“I felt great when I was pregnant and after Kelsey was born.”
Feeling good, however, didn’t last. Again, Kelly battled the symptoms of the disease, sometimes struggling simply to get out of bed in the morning.
Yet, it was her child who instilled in Kelly a desire to do more, to push her body to its limits. When Kelsey, now a sophomore at Ogallala High School and a gifted runner, was 9, she ran her first race, the Rendezvous 5K, which she won.
“She was the one who said, ‘You should try running the mile mom,’” Kelly said, adding she laughed at the suggestion. “I said, ‘I can’t do that Kelsey.’”
Yet, a seed was planted, and Kelly said she began to think that maybe she could. While her first tentative steps were daunting, she continued.
“Running a mile seemed like 10,” Kelly said.
In 2007, step by slow step, Kelly completed a mile run, and later that same year, ran her first 5K.
“I wasn’t by any means a fast runner. I was just happy that I got it done,” she said.
While she thought her runner ambitions were fulfilled, Kelly learned North Platte offered a summer triathlon, and she and Kelsey decided to take the challenge. In 2008, after months of training, she completed the super sprint triathlon – a 200-meter swim, 10-mile bike ride and two-mile run.
“The first triathlon I did my mom said, ‘If you get to a point where you can’t finish, it’s OK,’” she said. “I said, ‘No, it’s not. Quitting is not an option.’”
That can-do attitude allowed her to complete the triathlon. Soon, she was thinking, “Maybe I can do a lot more than I thought I could.”
During the next four years, that attitude prompted a complete change in Kelly. Working closely with her doctor, who preaches an active lifestyle for those with RA, Kelly said she heeds his words, “You know your limitations. But, if you feel you hit your limit, stop.”
After successfully running one distance, she’d advance to the next. In 2011, she set a goal to complete a half marathon, 13.1 miles. She enlisted her friend, Kris Elmshaeuser, as a training partner and they ran together all summer.
In October 2011, Kelly completed her first half marathon. While she credits training well and taking care of her body, her accomplishment also was a testament to her faith. Prior to the run, on the inside of her wrist she copied a verse from the Bible, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“That’s become my thing now,” Kelly said. “When I think I can’t go on it’s like -- oh yes I can.”
Her completion of the half marathon that year prompted an urge to not just run, but to run well.
After I ran the half I thought, ‘I think there’s a runner in me that’s been screaming to get out all my life.’ Now it’s not just enough to finish. Now I’ve got to set some goals and improve,” she said.
Last January, she set the goal, “as crazy as it seemed” to not just finish the Platte River Fitness Series, but to win it.
“And, I laughed at myself,” she said. “You’re competing against people half your age and the ones that are older are twice your ability. How could you possibly win it?’”
Yet, she focused on how to improve her running, “reading everything I could get my hands on.”
After completing the series, as well as seven other events in four states, Kelly’s resume for 2012 listed nine 5Ks, three 10Ks, one 15 K, three half marathons and three triathlons.
Not only did she complete the series, but Kelly performed well, shaving minutes off her times and recording personal bests in the 5K - 23:49; 10K - 49:54; and half marathon - 1:48.
In a ceremony Jan. 27, Kelly and the other Fitness Series finishers will be recognized. She also will be awarded the top female athlete of the series.
“Actually to say athlete and my name in the same sentence sounds strange,” she said. “I just wanted to prove to myself that I, someone with my ability, could win it, and I did.”
As for goals for 2013, Kelly said she wants to participate in an Olympic-distance triathlon, which will be offered at Ogallala this summer.
The event includes a 10K, 1,000-meter swim and a 25-mile bicycle ride.
While her 2013 running calendar still is not set, one thing she knows is she will continue to be physically active as part of a strategy to manage the disease. And although some mornings her body screams its protest with stiff, achy joints, still she gets up and works out.
“I’m like anyone else. You wake up and don’t feel like running today. And, if you convince yourself, you won’t. But, you’ll probably regret it,” she said.
Kelly acknowledges the support of her family and friends, as well as friends in the running community who cheer each other across every finish line, contribute to her success.
Yet, it is her faith in God that has gotten her through tough times and also across each finish line.
“God has helped keep me centered in the running and keeps me on track. There’s times when you don’t know if you can do it, but faith is what brings you back to ‘I can.’ But, it’s not just running. It’s life.”
This feature report was first published Jan. 9 in the Keith County News. Reprinted with permission.