Angeli VanLaanen Conquers Lyme Disease and Aims to Win at Sochi Olympics

by lmatthews on February 10, 2014

lyme disease athlete angeli vanlaanen us freeskiier sochi 2014

14 years of Lyme disease but now VanLaanen is hoping for gold at Sochi.

After winning a place on the Sochi team by soaring to victory in her last five qualifying rounds, freeskieer Angeli VanLaanen says she is symptom-free and staying healthy after a long and difficult battle with Lyme disease. Her secret? Keeping to a healthy diet and maintaining a quiet mind through meditation, but not taking anything for granted.

Mystery Illness Halts Career

VanLaanen is now a spokesperson for a national Lyme disease foundation (LymeLight) and an inspiration to all those struggling with the infection. A documentary was made detailing her fight with Lyme which put her out of action for many years after an incredibly promising start to her freeskiing career. This feisty freeskier suffered with mysterious joint pain, muscle spasms, extreme fatigue and a range of other nefarious Lyme disease symptoms but without a diagnosis and appropriate treatment her condition simply worsened year after year.

Lyme Disease – All In Your Head?

The Olympian experienced fainting spells, vertigo, headaches, and back pain but with no obvious answer presenting itself to her physicians she was often told that her symptoms of Lyme disease were “>all in her head. This familiar refrain persisted even as the condition sabotaged her career and had an immense impact on her quality of life.

Lyme Disease Documentary Credited with Saving VanLaanen’s Career

For 14 years VanLaanen managed to maintain hope of a successful career as a professional skiier but it was only after her aunt watched the Lyme disease documentary ‘Under Our Skin’ and recognised her niece’s symptoms that VanLaanen finally set foot on the road to recovery. Two weeks later and VanLaanen had a confirmed diagnosis of Lyme disease. Now 28 years old, VanLaanen suspects that she contracted Lyme disease around the time she was ten when she was living in Wisconsin. The multitude of VanLaanen’s symptoms, which would come and go seemingly randomly during her teens and early twenties confounded doctors but after that diagnosis there was hope of a resolution and a return to health.


Top Spot for VanLaanen

Indeed, VanLaanen has burst back onto the freeskiing scene, having continued to train when she could over the years. In December 2013 she placed second in the women’s freestyle skiing superpipe final at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships, and she came first in the women’s U.S. Grand Prix freestyle halfpipe skiing event in January this year.

Having once passed out on a chairlift from pain, and having to drop out of competitions as Lyme disease symptoms flared, VanLaanen knows more than most of the Sochi athletes how long a road it can be to qualify for the Olympics. She took three years away from her beloved sport to devote all her energy into conquering Lyme and regaining her health.

Battling Lyme Disease – Olympic-Style

Antibiotics (including intravenous antibiotics), dietary interventions, and a positive mindset are what got her through. The longstanding nature of her condition meant that there was plenty of healing needed but not one to rest on her laurels, VanLaanen spent those three years also raising money to produce a documentary about her ordeal. ‘LymeLight‘ aims to raise awareness of the infection usually spread by tick bite but now also considered a possible sexually transmitted disease.

VanLaanen hasn’t had any symptoms of Lyme disease for a year and is considered a real contender for a medal in the Olympic ski halfpipe, competing with reigning world champion Virginie Faivre of Switzerland. Having had to battle with ill-health for so long, fighting off the competition at Sochi might prove a little easier for this intrepid athlete.

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