Let me ask you a question: If you had a painful medical condition, would you intentionally participate in an activity that put you at risk for aggravating that medical condition?
HECK NO! At least that’s what most sane people would say.
What medical condition could I have?
Well, it’ a little something called Raynaud’s Disease. For those unfamiliar with Raynaud’s Disease, RD is a physical body reaction to exposure to cold temperatures. Typically, the symptoms are extremely cold extremities, your fingers and toes turn white (veins vasoconstrict, limiting blood flow). But when you are reintroduced to a warmer environment, your extremities start to swell up and send blood back in. This is extremely painful as the blood feels extremely hot, but if you touch the fingers they eerily still feel like ice.
The second condition that I’ve noticed about myself is my sensitivity to touching ice directly. Whenever my skin is in contact with ice, the area touching starts to swell/raise. I cannot take ice baths because the parts of my body submerged break out in hives and I become lethargic. Allergic to ice but in a winter sport…?
A pivotal example of this was during my first year on tour. Part of the team was training in Lake Placid, New York(roughly around the time last year). The temperature was dropping drastically. One training day the temperature was in the low teens but felt like zero with the wind chill. Like usual, I waited until the last minute before stepping out with my sled to the starting line. Instantly all warmth I had disappeared into the wind. I was shaking at the line waiting for the green light. I finally got it and sprinted as hard as I could off the block to get into the track. To my surprise, I felt the frigid cold in every curve on my fingers. When I got to the bottom, I struggled with picking up my sled, but fortunately, the track worker carried it for me to the platform. The truck was loaded with athletes and ready to go. Without much thought, I hopped in and got situated on the bench as the truck pulled out and started to head up. I needed to pull my helmet up because it was hard to get fresh air as I was panting, so I tried to unclip the straps, but I couldn’t get a grip on the buckle. My fingers were completely numb; I couldn’t feel anything. To make matters worse I’m claustrophobic. So having this helmet inches from my face and fogging up and my mouth guard still in my mouth, I started to panic. I’m desperately fumbling for the buckle to release the straps, but my fingers wouldn’t bend. I’m starting to hyperventilate. I can’t breathe. I’m getting frantic. So now I’m pulling on the whole helmet, pulling up, wiggling it side to side to loosen it. Finally, I hook my thumbs around the inside of the helmet by my ears and violently pull. Off it snapped, and I gasped a mouthful of air. My teammates all look at me confused then go back to there previous conversations.
We got to the top alive. I started to notice my fingers felt an odd prickly pin and needles heat. I tried to ignore it, so I could set my sled on the rack, but when I got inside it got worse. My fingers started to turn red and swell. They were still cold to the touch, but inside they felt like I was holding them over some flames. I tried tucking them under my armpits, between my legs even rubbing them together, but as the minutes pat the pain grew worse. I ran to the bathroom so my team wouldn’t be worried about me. Then I tried holding my hands over the heater- when I tell you it felt like I fully gripped a hot baking sheet… It’s hard to describe that type of pain. Normally when you hurt a part of your body you can squeeze it with your hand or apply pressure another way, but this time my hands were the issue. I was in so much pain and had no solutions to alleviate the swelling, the burning sensation or the freezing parts. This level of pain lasted for about ten minutes. To say it got better or even disappeared would be nonsense. The pain simply stopped getting worse, kind of plateaued. I was done sliding and training for the day. The swelling lingered for a few days but didn’t fully disappear until a little over a week.
The good news is I do not feel the extremes of this often. However, it is very difficult for me to naturally create the heat I need to stay warm. For a while, I struggled to stay warm on track walks, while working on my sled outside or even warming up. Because it was so painful to be outside, I started setting up my sled before heading out to practice. Once I got to the track I would stay inside as long as possible, so I wouldn’t be able to fully execute my warmups prior to training.
As the season progressed, I realized I needed to be a bit more active and stay on top of certain things especially the unforeseeable ones. So I had to prepare better. This meant finding heavy-duty winter gear and using artificial warmers. I wear several layers when I go to the track to train starting with spandex shorts and a tank top, then two leggings with a sweater, then snow pants and a snowboarding coat topped off with a beanie. I also wear snow boots with heated insoles or toe warmers for added heat. This extra preparation was a total game changer for this past season! Not only was I more productive, but my mindset changed. I didn’t fear the cold as much because I knew I had the right gear with me this time. With the right type of preparation, you can mentally handle just about anything that comes your way. Even if your body is screaming at you to stop, you can find the strength to keep going.