16

Feb

Woman Overcomes Lupus, Gets Back To Competitive Curling

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Getting into top shape is hard work. With a chronic illness, it can be even harder.

Regan Birr was a competitive curler, but was forced to give it up when she was diagnosed with lupus shortly after graduating college. As her physical strength declined, losing her outlet led to her mental strength weakening as well and she fell into depression.

“I could hardly stand during the day…. Those were dark days for years. I basically sat on my couch,” she said to local TV station KARE. “I had to give up everything I loved.”

Regan took IV Cytoxan, a breast cancer chemotherapy treatment, for more than two years in a bid to suppress an overactive immune system. Although her lupus was brought into remission, she needed a cane to get up the stairs because the treatments left her feeling weak. It wasn’t until her diet changed that she began seeing results.

She started a low-glycemic index diet to counter the inflammation brought on by lupus. She says the diet has been key both in her recovery and the maintenance of her recovery.

“All you have to do is look at the glycemic index chart,” said Birr. “Pick foods that are low or mid not high.”

For breakfast, she likes to have steel cut oats and berries with egg whites. She eats protein in each meal and often includes mixed nuts. She also adds salad to most meals. She eats rye instead of wheat, and makes her own rye bread. For meat, she eats fish, poultry, turkey and bison. She often takes a can of salmon with her as a meal on the go during work.

“Then you get more energy once you change your diet, so you can then carry out exercise,” said explained.

Regan now works out every day for 20 to 30 minutes in her home, with the goal simply to be steady in her routine. She does low impact cardio, walking in place for two minutes while reaching arms overhead, then switches to strength training using no more than two-pound dumbbells for two minutes. She pauses to stretch her muscles in between each segment. She then goes back to cardio, and so on.

Regan had to modify her workouts to compensate for the arthritis brought on by lupus. She used knowledge from her engineering degree to formulate a strength training program that was easy on the joints.

“My program is called JointSense, which is low torque exercise,” said Regan. “Basically it came out of necessity. It’s the only exercise I can really do, so that’s what’s helping me stay fit and stay healthy and stay happy.”

Regan says everything clicked once she began eating right and exercising.

“Pain went down, energy went up, strength went up, I didn’t need my cane anymore,” said Regan who still takes prednisone and plaquenil to keep the lupus symptoms at bay. “It just all came together.”

After achieving her own success, Regan created a program called Regan MOVES. She trains others who are also coping with chronic illness, teaching them how to implement JointSense.

Regan gave up competitive curling for about five years due to lupus. She’s now back at it and better than ever, competing at the national level with her sights set high.

“My grandma just stopped curling last year at age 90,” said Regan. “I want to be like her. I want to go to the Olympics and I’ve got high goals.”