Despite the setbacks that chronic illness entails, top UK trad climber Charlie Woodburn has approached his goals with great determination and exudes a passion for climbing and the outdoors in all its forms. By taking control of his illness and approaching both symptoms and training systematically, he is now climbing harder than ever - and enjoying it.
Natalie Berry asked Charlie some questions about dealing with chronic arthritis and achieving his career best...
Very inspiring. I have the same condition and I spent ten years oscillating between being virtually unable to walk and well enough to climb a little so my grade dipped back to easy routes after every bout. I eventually developed a serious allergy to anti inflammatory drugs and became effectively crippled. At this point my gp sent me for an MRI and referred me to a rheumatologist who diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis and who found me anti inflammatories that I'm not allergic to (ibuprofen!) so I dodged the anti TNF bullet. I'm now pretty much on an even keel and am able to walk, climb, get out of bed without screaming etc. I've let running go as it's too high impact and I have pretty severe erosion in my sacroiliatic joint.
Based on this article I should be up to E9 in no time
Strangely I have AS and have had an open pleurectomy on each lung not long before. If you have AS I would highly recommend an anti-inflammatory called etoricoxib which I find extremely effective and doesn't hurt my stomach. Also going to the gym 2 or 3 times a week and doing a specific regime. I could hardly walk at times 5 months ago and now with the help of the right drug and regular gym sessions I feel about 75% better. Getting on a treadmill helped almost instantly. I have now taken up brazilian jiu jitsu which I never thought I would be able to do and found that It actually helps. I am interested in diet changes, I will see how that goes.
I've a milder condition that has had me on and off ant-inflammatories for 15 years, mostly off these days. Feeling my way back climbing again after a long time away and more biking and fell running. Definitely less problems the fitter I've got but have to balance training and resting more carefully ...but that may be true of most 50-somethings? Clearly I now need to up my game from bumbly underachiever sport grades and see if I can push on a bit. Nice one Charlie. Great to read your story. We all have to be our own expert and feel our way. I had a right kick up the arse when the rheumatologist suggested 'taking up golf'. NO!
You're starting to make me feel very glad I've not had to worry about getting someone in to furtle with my lungs!
I'll have a chat with my GP about the anti inflammatories (thanks for the recommendation btw) but I suspect she'll suck her teeth and tell me it's not worth the risk - that was all the doctors' responses to me asking for any nsaids after I became allergic to diclofenac / naproxen. Luckily I eventually found a specialist who was prepared to take a punt on one and I'm on 12-hour slow release ibuprofen (off and on)
Couldn't agree more about exercise! I do three hours a week on an elliptical trainer and then calisthenics or climbing the other evenings. Strong core and lots of movement keeps it in check.
I'm like a shark now: if I stop moving I die
Interesting about the diet stuff. I was keen on trying a ketogenic diet anyway so this might just nudge me to start.
Charlie has always been a massive inspiration to me, in many levels, just being a really nice bloke, unassuming, never moaning about his condition and just getting out and climbing like it was his last day. One on the true legends out there.
Such an inspiring climber. And, until now, I had no idea he was living with AS!
I've been diagnosed with AS coupled with Crohns for upwards of 12 years and its the fatigue that really gets me. I love to climb and train, but sometimes I wake us just as tired as before I went to bed! The brain fogginess is a really annoying thing to have too. I have a PhD in English but words just disappear out of my brain some days, and I have to read a sentence three times over for it to make sense.
Unfortunately, I suffer with both conditions quite severely, and have to take anti-TNFs. But they have changed my life, and I'm happy to be able to use them. However, its also good to see that Charlie has found an alternative approach. I hope he keeps on cranking out the grades and enjoying himself.