By Liana Jacob
THIS ATHLETE’S rare swelling condition meant that at one point she couldn’t even put on her SHOE but after YEARS of feeling insecure she decided to dive into sports and has since participated in MARATHONS and a BODYBUILDING COMPETITION.
In 2004, aesthetician, Alison Mahoney (32), from Florida, USA, was diagnosed with Lymphoedema praecox, a condition characterised by swelling of the soft tissues in which an excessive amount of lymph has accumulated.
The condition caused her left leg to swell up so much that she was unable to get her foot into a shoe and made her feel uncomfortable to walk. Her diagnosis made her feel ‘broken’ and ‘ugly’.
For years she would try to hide her leg, wearing compression wraps and this made her feel miserable over her appearance. Despite wearing compression wraps, she participated in athletic activities including two half marathons, a sprint triathlon and an Olympic distance triathlon. One day when she was preparing for a fitness competition, she decided she didn’t care about her condition and how her leg looked with compression wraps on. She decided to give up her negative feelings. So, she began wearing shorts with pride and took first place in a bikini bodybuilding competition.
These sports helped her build up her confidence and she has since been sharing her journey on social media to encourage others to embrace their unique traits.
“I was seventeen years old, when I noticed my leg was swollen. I told my parents about it, I told them, ‘I have some weird swelling and I’m not having an allergic reaction, it’s uncomfortable but it doesn’t hurt, and nothing is broken’,” Alison said.
“My skin hurt because my ankle and foot were huge; I could hardly fit my foot into a shoe. Thankfully my dad is a doctor and my mum is a nurse so they were very connected with all the doctors in town. I quickly had appointments with a few different specialists.
“Immediately I thought I was very sick. Then when I was diagnosed with a chronic condition that wasn’t going away, I felt like I was broken. Then when I had to wear big bulky wraps and compressions, I felt ugly and embarrassed.
“Mostly people didn’t really know what was wrong with me either. No one was outwardly rude to my face or anything when I was first diagnosed.
“When I came to school all bandaged up, I was terribly embarrassed, and I just felt like everyone was talking about me behind my back. That was probably not totally true but at seventeen I was self-conscious.
“I was prepping for a fitness competition and I finally gave myself permission to be open about it. I have this rubbish disease and I don’t care if people stare at me or judge me.
“Wearing compression is part of taking care of myself and keeping myself healthy. If someone judges me for that then that’s on them.
“I’m going to wear shorts and just be confident because why not. I lived for a long time being miserable and embarrassed. Outwardly, I was happy, but inside I was hiding and hurting a lot.
“Giving up the hiding and just being open about it has brought me so much pride. I received a lot of positive feedback on social media, so that was a major source of encouragement.
“Since opening up, I have found other people just like me. I look at others with lymphoedema who are positive and living their lives and it gives me a lot of hope every day.
“We have so much to offer in this world but we just happen to have this disease. I truly wish I had that kind of support when I was seventeen, I probably wouldn’t have felt so alone.
“I feel fairly confident about myself now; I do have my days that I get really down about my leg but overall I feel confident.
“Living in a small town helps too. Most people now know what lymphedema is and why I wear compression all the time.”
Alison has undergone countless manual lymphatic drainage, a type of massage based on a theory that it will encourage the natural drainage of the lymph, which carries waste products away from the tissues back toward the heart.
She is currently looking into getting a suction assisted protein lipectomy (SAPL) surgery, a procedure that allows safe and dramatic reductions of large amounts of excess fat and protein present in chronic lymphoedema.
Despite years of feeling like her condition has held her back from doing what she loved, she has since changed this perception and has become involved in various active work outs.
“I ran two half marathons, one sprint triathlon, one Olympic distance triathlon and I did one body building competition (bikini division),” she said.
“Currently, I stay active by walking our two dogs, lift weights at the gym and I always like to try out new workout classes.
“Fitness and working out has helped build my confidence. I love how I feel after I work out. Basically, I think, ok so you have something wrong, but it’s not like you can’t move. Plus exercise helps move lymphatic fluid and keeps me healthy so that is a win-win.
“Some people have no legs and still go to the gym. Mine is just swollen and I have to wear compression, so I can totally do this.
“Doing the bodybuilding competition really helped me out of my shell and got me to really open up and hold my head high regardless of my disease. The bodybuilding community was also very supportive and encouraging. The day of the competition everyone was so kind, I never felt judged or looked down on for having lymphoedema.
“I am looking into getting SAPL done or a Lymph node transfer. It’s a newer surgery but the results are astounding and would really cut back on the time I dedicate to wrapping my leg every day and night.
“Live your life. Everyone has something wrong with them. Get help, learn to manage it and then get on with your life. Don’t pass something up or give up on your dreams because of this.”