Swim. Bike. Persevere. Repeat.

“Everyone’s got a story,” BIT employee, Mike Waldner, has always said.

Waldner’s triathlon story began like most other people’s. He was a pretty fit guy from the beginning. While playing racquetball with his trainer buddy, Eric Redinger, Mike asked if he could help him with a weight-training and fat-reduction program–because healthy guys like to get healthier.

Redinger complied and went even further by encouraging Mike to look into participating in a triathlon. Amid Redinger’s encouragement, South Dakota native all-star triathlete, Jason Crisp, also crossed Mike’s path. Both Crisp and Redinger teamed up to convince Mike to try a triathlon.

Eventually, Mike succumbed to Pierre pressure. He trained, competed, and excelled. Often scoring the top ten of local sprints and posting respectable times in longer distance races out of state. The rest of his triathlon journey should have been history…

Mike’s journey, however, took a sharp turn in 2015 when he received a diagnosis that explained the paralyzing symptoms he’d been experiencing for the previous couple of years: psoriatic arthritis. What began a year earlier as sore and stiff joints that prevented him from hopping out of bed like normal triathlete, turned into a full-blown autoimmune disorder. In a very short time, Waldner went from being able to go sub-six hours in a half-ironman distance and regularly visiting the top-ten in local sprints to struggling to turn the key in his ignition or needing to hold a glass of water in a restaurant with both hands. Needless to say, the contrast in lifestyle shook Mike’s world.

So many things about Mike’s condition could lead the average person into a spiral of depression: the hidden symptoms, the scrutiny of those who don’t believe him, the idiopathic nature of the disease that shows up randomly for no good reason and then disappears for no good reason.

Although Mike succumbed (for a short while) to discouraging thoughts, in true triathlete fashion, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and started looking for ways to do the things that he loves to do. He began to research his condition more to find a way to do the things that he loves to do. While he was taking advantage of all the treatments that Western medicine offered, he came upon something called Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). AIP is a specialized version of the Paleo diet that’s been proven to help reduce inflammation. Thanks to a supportive wife (who’s a pretty good cook, according to Mike), he found one more way to help manage the PsA.

To get his life back, Mike had to change his life. So he did. He began to say no to more people, began reducing stress as much as possible, and eliminated foods from his diet that caused inflammation. (It’s probably worth mentioning that the aforementioned list sounds much easier than it really is. The following article gives a little glimpse into some of the things Mike needed to eliminate from his diet: https://aiplifestyle.com/what-is-autoimmune-protocol-diet/).

Mike’s training looks quite a bit different now. Though his challenges still exist, Mike has managed to work his way back into the triathlon world, one decision and one day at a time. And while his condition has not disappeared, he’s learned to work with it.

Psoriatic Arthritis affects different parts of the body, and it nondiscriminatory nature makes it both interesting and frustrating. Each victim has different areas effected. For Mike specifically, his chest becomes inflamed and sends pain down his arm- making his watch feel like it weighs 20 pounds. His hand joints hurt to the point that shifting gears on the bike causes some significant challenges on certain days. His left toes now rest constantly in a curled position and are typically numb, which makes bike shoes even more uncomfortable.

But Mike presses on.

He cares about his health and he has found himself in a unique place of gratitude. Having had one of his favorite activities taken from him and now seemingly returned, thanks to a combination of modern medicine and some significant lifestyle changes. “For whatever reason, I didn’t ask for this disease, but I got it, and at the same time it’s been a gift to a certain extent,” states Mike.

He remembers when he first started having symptoms. Mike had just finished a successful campaign for a Madison City Commission spot, had recently traveled to both coasts and several cities for work, and was preparing for his youngest daughter, Sydnie, to graduate. In his words, life was going at 100 miles per hour. And then this happened. “This was, in my opinion, God tapping me on the shoulder and saying he could take triathlon away like that,” states Mike. The necessary lifestyle changes, the slowing down, happened because of PsA. “That was just a huge blessing,” he states.

Since Mike has started his journey with AIP in combination with Western medicine, he has begun to dip his toes in the triathlon waters. He had to start slow in the most humble of ways, beginning with a couch-to-5K plan for running and a few laps of swimming. His first swim began with just three laps and then a break in which he threw his goggles across the locker room in frustration. Progress was going to be slow. But he has persevered, and in the past couple of years he’s completed a couple of sprints. He even paced his daughter, Sydnie, in the half at Grandma’s Marathon this past June. He recently faced his biggest physical challenge since his diagnosis two years ago: the half-ironman distance race at Toughman Minnesota in Chisago City, Minnesota.

The Toughman in Minnesota has been something Mike has spent a great deal of time training for. All-star athlete and trainer, Jason Crisp, has continued to train Mike from afar. Under Jason’s careful guidance, Mike has been fortunate to train diligently while paying close attention to his stress levels and nutrition. Life after his PsA diagnosis certainly looks different for race nutrition as well. There’s no Gatorade or typical sugary drink in his bike bottle, just some basic bone broth. Mike is continually looking for the best supplements to manage his PsA while still competing.

Mike’s attitude and faith are evident to anyone who takes even a few minutes just to say hi. In some ways, he’s different than the guy before PsA, and in some ways, he just more of what he was–like how his best memories from triathlon come not from really hard races or fast times but the incidents when his family competed with him. He cites the year that everyone in his house competed in the Southern Hills Tri–his two kids Sydnie and Brendon in the kids’ tri and his wife Lori in the duathlon.

Mike has persevered, and he continues to have the most positive attitude despite his circumstances. He continues to tri because he can. “To a certain extent, I feel like I’d be wasting a God-given talent of which there’s other people in this world that would love to be able to do it and can’t,” states Mike. He thinks of the family he knows who died young and the people who just physically cannot get out of bed. Mike’s new mantra since his diagnosis has simply been, “There are bigger problems in the world.”

Congratulations, Mike! We are proud to have you as one of our own!

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