Ten years ago, Sarah Jones developed chronic arthritis that rapidly spread to every joint in her body, from her jaw to her neck; wrist, knees, hips, ankles and everywhere in between. Four years ago, a back injury rendered Sarah almost immobile.

She was unable to walk and suffered acute pain when sitting or lying down. Within two months of her first spinal surgery, Sarah relapsed, and her neurosurgeon performed a second round of emergency spinal surgery. Sarah has no connecting nerves to her calf muscle but she has found the key to unlock an improved quality of life here at SUSF.

Now in her second year of membership at SUSF, Sarah’s determination and persistence combined with a specialised program have been vital tools in managing her conditions.

When did you join SUSF?

About two years ago I was made aware of a new Exercise Physiology* program that was being introduced [at SUSF]. Once the program was established, I sought a referral from my specialist and booked a series of five sessions. In my first session the Exercise Physiologist, Carmel, conducted extensive prep work and identified my baseline abilities. By the third session, Carmel had developed a tailored program for me. I booked in a few more sessions and, by the sixth session, I took up a 12-month gym membership and, as they say, the rest is history.

Were you apprehensive to get started?

To say that I was nervous is an understatement. I was not a gym person. It was unfamiliar territory and I did not feel confident that I would be able to do the exercises. I was worried that I would re-injure my back (and I could not endure the thought of more spinal surgery), and I was concerned that the exercises would trigger arthritic ‘flares’, and thus further exacerbate a deteriorating condition.

What was the most difficult obstacle you had to overcome whilst training?

The initial couple of months were tough. I remember how limited I was both physically and mentally. I worried that every new pain was a reoccurrence of my spine injury. Carmel was supportive, always patient… but also tough. 

Her encouragement pushed me forward. It wasn’t long before I developed the confidence to work more independently through the various challenges.

With a busy work schedule, how do you make time for the gym?

During the first year it was about developing a rhythm and getting into a good routine. As soon as I began to see and feel the results of the training, I made a commitment to ensure that I made time for it. I simply made training a habit and scheduled time each night after work. Later, the key factor in making this permanent change to my lifestyle was finding out that I could modify my program. I realised that I did not have to do the full hour/hour and a half, and could simply focus on different aspects of the program even if it was just for 30 minutes during the day. I don’t overcommit – I do what can be reasonably done in the time that I have. This ensures that I don’t make excuses for not going to the gym!

Have you found going to the gym and leading a more active lifestyle has improved your life in other ways?

Absolutely, I can’t even tell you how much. I am stronger and more resilient – both physically and psychologically.This program has turned my life around.

*Exercise Physiologists are qualified allied health professionals equipped with the knowledge, skills and competencies to design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective exercise programs for individuals with acute or chronic injuries, medical conditions or disabilities. Click here for more information.