Local runner helps keep lupus in check with diet and hardcore trail running.
Born and Bred
Macksville. Before that, Larned,Kansas
Topeka (which means “great place to dig potatoes” in Osage/Kansa)
Fort Hays State University
Administrator for the Kansas Department of Corrections
Independent consultant for Arbonne International, the beauty product company that asks you to go veggie, baby. Arbonne’s beauty, health, and wellness products are botanical – i.e. 100% vegan.
Have Trails, Will Travel
Ballhagen averages 20 miles of running per week, mostly on trails, and not just in tater-town. She regularly travels around northeast Kansas and to the KC metro to run choice single track.
When Life Hands You Lemons
Ballhagen was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus in 2004. SLE is a chronic, shape-shifting autoimmune syndrome that most commonly strikes women in their twenties. Early symptoms include muscle and joint pain and stiffness and skin rashes after sun exposure. The most profound symptom is crushing fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest. Getting properly diagnosed can be an extreme challenge. Ballhagen’s lupus was virulent. At first she thought she had a really bad cold, but it didn’t get better. She wound up in the hospital with multi-system organ involvement.
“After a year or so of increasingly bad health, I got incredibly ill.” She struggled to find a PG-rated description for what happened next. “Before I knew it, I felt like a science experiment with all the medications the doctors put me on.” She emphasized that her plight was like that of so many other people who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. “My lupus was severe, but my story’s common. I would go off and on medications. I didn’t know how to manage the side effects. I was off and on steroids. It changed me physically. It changed my personality, the way I looked, the way I felt, the way I related to the world. It’s a terrible disease.”
Autoimmune diseases wax and wane. Ballhagen experienced a kaleidoscope of symptoms and tried dozens of medications. It was hard to get her bearings. Then in 2009 she got divorced. “Like anyone who goes through a life-changing event, you have a few options. You can bounce around at the bottom, in emotional pain, in physical pain. Or you can make some decisions. I decided it was time to arm myself with the ammunition I would need to really get healthy. So I did. The next few years I dedicated to learning everything I could about my body so that I could live in wellness instead of in illness.”
Listen to Your Body
It’s been an evolution, but Ballhagen said the core principle is to listen to your body. “I was a sugar fiend. I began to realize that if you gorge on sugar and feel like crap afterwards, if I listen to my body, I will understand that those two things are connected, and I can make decisions.”
After learning to listen to her body, she settled on a mostly gluten-free “autoimmune paleo” diet to manage her illness. Inflammatory processes abound in autoimmune disease, so the diet encourages followers to avoid foods that cause irritation. For Ballhagen the biggest culprit was eggs. “Eggs and beef are two of my very favorite things, but I have an autoimmune disorder, so I need to pay attention if I’m eating them. The key thing for me is to recognize that food is potentially an inflammatory agent in my body.”
Process of Elimination
Every third month Ballhagen does a twenty-one day elimination diet. “You take out alcohol, caffeine, gluten, refined sugar. Basically you eliminate foods that you know make your system inflamed. I always start with an Arbonne detox. A key is to drink a ton of water and keep your calories up. I fully believe that for people with autoimmune disease, periods of elimination, in conjunction with fueling our bodies with quality nutrients, can make an incredible difference.”
Hot Hot Heat
With all these modifications, Ballhagen is able to maintain her running, sometimes even during lupus flares. Running twenty miles each week is no small feat if you have a disease that causes crushing fatigue. She swears by lava yoga for cross training. “Hot yoga for me was life changing. I remember distinctly the first time I tried it, waking up the next morning with no lupus pain. I literally wept that morning. I couldn’t believe it.” Current Project Right now Ballhagen is training for a half marathon in February .
Hey, Kansas City
“One of the things that has changed markedly about Kansas City, even in the last eighteen months,” Ballhagen says, “is the number of online resources we have to find great trails to run on. It’s incredibly helpful if you want to keep your routine fresh with new routes.”
KNOW SOMEBODY WHO’S PERFECT FOR INDIEFIT CONFIDENTIAL? EMAIL FEEDBACK@INDIEFITMAGAZINE.COM