USA Triathlon News Blogs My Story The Titanium Triathl...

The Titanium Triathlete

By Dina Neils | April 06, 2015, 3:53 p.m. (ET)

dina neils“You will never run again and you will be in a wheelchair by the time you’re in your mid-20s.” Not willing to accept that diagnosis, I told the doctor that she was wrong and walked out — I was 18.

For 12 years I battled rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease with no cure that causes chronic pain and inflammation affecting joints and organs throughout the body. RA deteriorated my hips — nothing but bone grinding on bone. Since then I’ve had two total hip replacements, learned how to walk again (twice), and literally swam, cycled and ran myself into remission. I achieved remission from Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014, and I’m fighting every day to continue to do what I love: triathlon.

At the age of 18, I was an accomplished long-distance runner embarking on my first year of collegiate competition. While training for cross country season, RA started in my foot — within weeks chronic pain spread to my toes, knees, hips, hands, elbows and jaw. In a couple of months I went from being a healthy athlete to becoming disabled.

Even with an arsenal of the best medical treatment (daily pain killers, steroids, cortisone, weekly self injections, chemotherapy and monthly infusions), the nature of the disease seemed never-ending. Over the years no matter how difficult the fight became, I never gave up. Despite a 12-year battle with RA, I continue to train and compete.

My journey back to running has been remarkable — and it has only just begun. Within the last two years, I completed 12 races (triathlons and running races), many with top age-group finishes and medals, in addition to a couple of top overall female achievements. My main event is triathlon, and I set high goals for 2015: to qualify for USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance Nationals. The odds were against me, but I kept fighting and qualified for Nationals at the end of March.

dina neilsMy ultimate goal is to someday make Team USA. I’ve also set my sights on completing in my first IRONMAN 70.3 in 2016.

As an infant I was adopted out of the foster care system by loving foster parents. They treated me as their own and gave me the chance at a better life. They continued to foster children in need for over 20 years — providing a safe haven and a nurturing environment. I grew up in Antioch, California, a small city in the East Bay Area. As an honor student, I excelled in the classroom with little interest in sports until high school, where I joined the cross country and track team. Junior year, I earned a spot on the varsity team — one of the top ranked teams in the state.

I went on to join the cross country team at California State University of Sacramento. In 2007, I graduated with a B.A. in public relations and a minor in journalism.

Every day, I live by these words: “I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, 'because of you I didn’t give up.'”

Dina currently resides in Elk Grove, California, and trains with the Elk Grove Triathlon Club. As the official CreakyJoints SpokesAthlete, Dina represents CreakyJoints at athletic events to raise awareness of RA, educate local, state and national legislators about issues and legislation important to arthritis patients, blog about her racing, education and life experiences with arthritis. She hopes to inspire others who are battling adversity to pursue their dreams and not allow a medical diagnosis to detour them.

Dina is also a Global Healthy Living Foundation Advocate, an Arthritis Foundation Arthritis Ambassador and on the Arthritis National Research Foundation Racing for a Cure team (which helps raise funds to find a cure for arthritis).

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