Olympian Arianne Jones Turned Adversity to Potential After Being Diagnosed with Lyme Disease

Olympian Arianne Jones battled Lyme Disease and found a silver lining of resilience. Here is her story

Arianne Jones
Canadian Olympian Arianne Jones. Photo: Dave Holland

Everyone has an untold story; unique moments of pain, sorrow and obstacles. Even others who may look ‘fine’ or ‘healthy and happy’ could be going through difficulties you can’t see. My journey has been filled with moments of joy and despair which ultimately have led me to new discoveries about myself and helped me overcome many challenges.

In the last decade, I’ve dealt with naysayers and people in power who told me repeatedly that I would never achieve anything in luge – that I would never be big enough and that I should just quit. Luge is a gravity sport, meaning the heavier you are, the more of an advantage you have. I was inches shorter and 20 kilos lighter than all of my competitors. Despite these roadblocks, I qualified for and competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (placing 13th),  50 World Cups and five World Championships. 

I spent most of the last decade of my life in European alpine ranges, walking up the mountain each morning only to slide back down on a sled. I’ve crashed at 140 km/hour more times than I care to count. I broke my back in the summer of 2016 and came back nine months later to win gold at the 2016 World Cup in Germany. 

While I was turning my focus to the 2018 Winter Olympics, I was forced to retire from my sport because I got mysteriously sick. After 1,035 days of pain, frustration, feeling like I had a debilitating flu and not being believed by doctors,  I found out I had Lyme Disease. 

Losing my sport and identity as an athlete has shed light on an outdated story I was holding onto, of tying my self worth to productivity and accomplishments. I realized that it was not peak physical fitness that measured my worth, nor accolades or achievements. Instead, I realized that I was enough, intrinsically, just as I was. After decades of being told my body and personality were not right for success in my sport (and then disproving that), it took a lot of relearning to just be me; authentically and unapologetically myself. 

Lyme disease forcefully pushed me to sit in silence, solitude and stillness. By trying to embrace this quiet, I’ve relearned how to listen to my body. It’s led me to contemplate where my life has taken me, who I am now, what lessons I’ve learned through these obstacles, and what path I want to take next. 

Journaling has always been a powerful tool for me to process my experience. Every day, I write down five things I’m grateful for, a practice I began when I broke my back. Last week for the first time in four years, when my pen hit that gratitude column, Lyme disease popped into my head. The realization that an illness that rocked my entire world and broke the foundation of who I am could be associated with gratitude stopped me in my tracks. 

For years my lingo around Lyme was focused on what it took away from me. My vitality. My sport. My fitness. My health. My relationships. My happiness. My energy. My motivation and drive. 

For the first time in four years, this moment prompted me to stop and reframe. What if this transformational journey has been teaching me that I need to let go of my constant wish to get healthy so I can ‘get back to who I was’ and instead lean into who it is helping me become. When I zoomed out and changed the narrative to what this chronic illness has given me rather than taken away, I came away with gratitude for a few key lessons it has taught me. 

Slowness has given me the realization that walking (ideally alone and optimally in nature) is powerful for health and healing and that sometimes when you’re having a hard time solving a problem, nature surprises you with the answer. 

The forced solitude I experienced gave me the realization that I am a cheerleader for others, but not myself. The words I use to cheer and support others, I do not echo for my own struggles. On the flip side, I would never use the words I said to myself with those I love.

Recovering from both my back injury and Lyme disease showed me the true power of whole foods as medicine. Since leaving the world of competitive luge, I’ve pivoted. I’ve become certified in holistic nutrition and I am now a plant based chef who is fiercely passionate about nutrition and food. 

I’ve been using plant medicine – a holistic, integrative (mind, body and spirit) approach, blending eastern and western modalities with my knowledge in holistic nutrition and as a chef – as critical puzzle pieces to my healing journey. This has had profound impact on my illness, energy, wellbeing and performance. 

Some days I feel like I take five steps forward. Most days are two steps forward, one step back. And occasionally it feels like I fell backwards down a flight of stairs. But the one mantra I keep repeating to myself is ‘One step at a time. Progress not perfection. Just keep breathing and showing up.’

Life is by no means a clear path forward with a rosy hue, filled with happy moments and constant gratitude. I have no idea how long my Lyme treatment will take. Will I get worse before I get better as many tell me? I still face physical pain, uncertainty, loneliness, fear and anxiety on a daily basis. I still have breakdowns out of the blue, and days of deep sadness and anger. But I am starting to see that glimmer of light in the corner of my vision and daily I am choosing to focus on joy, on light, on gratitude, and as always on fuelling my body with good food.

I believe in resilience and the potential for everyone to be able to take back the power of their health and healing journey. I’ve learned from the best, it has changed my life and I’ve seen it change the lives of others I’ve worked with. I want to fuse my knowledge and experiences to empower others to walk their unique paths to optimal health; to live better, more fulfilled and inspired lives and reach their beautiful goals! 

Lead image by Dave Holland

IMPACT Magazine Special Summer Edition iPad cover featuring Canadian climber and future Olympian Alannah YipIMPACT Magazine’s Special Summer Edition

This has not been a regular summer, and this is not a regular edition of IMPACT Magazine. In fact, it is an unprecedented issue that comes to you as a result of true grit and community support.

Read this story in our 2020 Summer Digital Edition.