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Runner bringing message of hope for arthritis sufferers to Apple Triathlon

Triathlete Helgi Olafson is spreading the message of exercise to beat arthritis this weekend at the Kelowna Apple Triathlon. - Mercedes DeCarli
Triathlete Helgi Olafson is spreading the message of exercise to beat arthritis this weekend at the Kelowna Apple Triathlon.
— image credit: Mercedes DeCarli

When the Apple Triathlon takes over Kelowna this weekend, one competitor will be running to not only try and win his class, but to raise awareness for a crippling disease he has been battling for more than a decade.

Helgi Olafson suffers from a form or arthritis known as Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) a potentially crippling disease where bones fuse together if left untreated.

Many who suffer from AS are left to struggle with chronic pain, mobility issues and the ability to live a normal life.

But Olafson is bringing a message of exercise as treatment to the area as he continues a North American tour to raise awareness while at the same time fighting to maintain a regular life.

"I've been racing since March of last year, just going to different cities, racing, raising awareness and connecting with people who have AS and arthritis and get it so it's not something that people suffer with in silence," said Olafson from Lake Country, where he is staying with family. "I'm just trying to be someone who is carrying the torch to help people realize that there is no magic pill to take. It's really a whole life-changing thing if you want to be serious about it."

Olafson, 30, was diagnosed with AS when he was 19 and over the years has learned to listen to his body and use it to help fight the autoimmune disease. A healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition goes a long way, further than prescription meds, he says.

"It's about training and keeping stress levels down, eating healthy, getting the proper amount of rest, not slouching and concentrating on posture," he said. "But exercise and stretching are probably the two biggest things. Prescription drug companies do a lot to help people but it's not the answer. I feel that's making the general public kind of lazy and overweight. Not just people with AS but it's being healthy in general that is going to make life better, even for people who don't have ailments like this."

Olafson began competing in triathlons as a way to prove to himself that he could still be physical even while suffering from AS. He started a non-profit foundation, trying to raise money as well as awareness. This weekend will be his first race in Kelowna and with a lot of family in the Okanagan, the Hawaii native is looking forward to the event as he competes with the age groupers in the 30 to 34 year old class.

"I'm very excited to compete in this race," he said. "I feel like my fitness levels are the best ever. I'm hoping to hit the podium in my age group. But I'm also excited to have a meeting that is open to the public at the Kelowna Arthritis Society."

That meeting will take place Monday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the arthritis society on Kirschner Road but in the meantime Olafson will be lining up with hundreds of others to compete in the Kelowna Apple on Sunday. Family and friends of Olafson will be around the course, wearing his shirts and spreading his message.

"I feel that arthritis and AS needs more recognition," he said. "It can affect anyone young or old. It's a life-changing thing and I really want to change the face of arthritis. It's a lot more complex than people think it is. It's not just an old person's disease."

You can find out more about Helgi Olafson and make donations to support his cause on his web sit at www.helgiolafson.org.

•••

Organizers for the 2103 edition of the Kelowna Pushor Mitchell Apple Triathlon have put out one last call for volunteers.

The annual race needs about 800 volunteers to conduct this weekend's event and is still close to 300 short of meeting that target.

Various positions are available on both days of the competition.

Among the rewards for volunteering is a prize draw for two anywhere Air Canada flies in North America, free commemorative polo shirts, a gym bag, and a Thank You reception at the Laurel Packinghouse on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

To register as a volunteer, visit www.appletriathlon.com

Apple Triathlon schedule

Friday, Aug. 16

• 6:45 p.m.—Open Water 1.5 km swim

Saturday, Aug. 17

• 7:15 a.m.— Try-a-Tri and Kids of Steel Youth (ages 8 to 19)

• 9:20 a.m.—U16 race

• 9:45 a.m.—Junior elite sprint females

• 10:45 a.m.—Open Water Swim Invitational 5 K

• 11:15 a.m. —Junior elite sprint males

Sunday, Aug. 18

• 7:15 a.m.—Age group sprint and Olympic distance races (in waves)

• 10:45 a.m.—Award ceremony for sprint and business challenge

• 12:45 a.m.—Award ceremony for Olympic

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