woman suffering from two life affecting illnesses says that the
reason she is not in a wheelchair is because she competes in the
dog sport, agility with her dogs.
Joanne Craig, 30 from Bristol was born with hypermobility
syndrome, a genetic illness which causes her joints to dislocate
over 10 times a day. The second illness, fibromyalgia syndrome was
triggered while Joanne was at university and means even the
smallest of tasks can cause her immense pain.
Joanne who is a spokesperson for the Kennel Club's Get Fit With
Fido campaign goes on to explain: "I was born with hypermobility
syndrome and was diagnosed as a child. It's genetic and my
sister and some of my cousins are also affected, meaning our
ligaments lack collagen, causing us to suffer constant repetitive
strain injuries. My wrist, ankle, shoulder, toes and fingers can
dislocate over ten times a day. There is no cure for
hypermobility and very little treatment to help.
"I've had surgery over the years in an attempt to correct my
ligaments and I am currently on the waiting list for a ligament
reconstruction on my right ankle and left knee, after having my
wrist reconstructed last year."
At the age of 25, Joanne was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia
syndrome which was triggered by a virus that she caught while
studying at university. The illness affects her brain's perception
of pain, meaning the slightest tap can be incredibly painful for
Joanne and even her clothes touching her skin can cause pain.
With no cure for the illness and having to leave university,
Joanne sunk into a downward spiral. Suffering other symptoms,
including fatigue, memory problems and weight gain, Joanne felt
incredibly isolated. That's when she got herself a dog and soon
Joanne explains: "I didn't cope very well - I became depressed
and withdrawn and was at rock bottom. It was during these years I
got my first dog, Josie. She really pulled me through and I started
taking her to obedience classes - even though I found them painful
and tiring it would be worth it when I would see her all excited
and happy, wagging her tail.
"By the time she was 18 months old, I decided to give agility a
shot. It was simply the best decision I have ever made. It got me a
lot fitter, and although it is hard for me, my doctors and physio
say to this day they believe agility is the reason I am not in a
wheelchair as it helps me keep my muscles strong around my joints,
making up for my more than useless ligaments."
Comprising various obstacles for dogs to run through, jump over,
and weave in and out of, all against the clock, agility tests the
dog's fitness and also measures the ability of the handler to
direct the dog over the course. It is a great cardiovascular
workout for both and as a fun sport it also increases motivation
levels for dog and owner. The psychological benefits of being
outdoors, exercising and having fun are profound, reducing stress
and anxiety and dogs love the daily injection of fun into their
Joanne walks her three dogs every day and takes part in agility
training when she can. She has a range of different exercise
options for when this isn't possible, including having a treadmill
at home which the dogs are trained to use.
Joanne got involved in the Kennel Club's Get Fit With Fido
campaign to spread awareness of the benefits of agility for keeping
fit and healthy. She says: "For people who think they can't take
part in this fabulous sport just because they have medical
conditions, they are wrong. It really is the best thing I have ever
done. I've even made plans to continue in agility when I
reach the stage that I have to use my mobility scooter permanently.
I have already taught one of my dogs to run alongside it and will
be teaching my other two over the next year."
Joanne returned to university part time and graduated in
December 2011 and is currently completing her teacher training at
the University of Bath. She lives in Bristol with her three dogs:
Josie, a ten year old Patterdale Terrier, Poppy, an eight year old
deaf Collie cross, and Murdoch, a two year old Toy Poodle.
The Kennel Club's Get Fit With Fido campaign encourages dogs and
their owners to get fit together to improve both health and
fitness. The Get Fit With Fido Challenge, launched this month,
rewards the dog and dog owner who jointly lose the most weight, and
the dog owner and dog who individually lose the most weight, with
the help of exercising together.
To find out more about the Get Fit With Fido Challenge visit www.thekennelclub.org.uk/getfitwithfido.