Osteoarthritis does not limit greatness

Eight years ago, Claude Davignon was tired of the suffering. At 51 years old, this Repentigny resident felt pain in his toes and walking was becoming monumental in effort. Pain in his knees, shoulders and wrists was growing significantly. Tasks related to his job as a butcher were becoming increasingly difficult. A doctor’s appointment revealed a diagnosis that explained it all: Claude was affected by severe osteoarthritis.

His muscles and ability to walk deteriorated rapidly. For over 6 years, Claude had to undergo many operations, followed by long leaves from work that sometimes lasted many years. For this man who was very used to working, the pain felt was mostly at a mental level.

Once very active, Claude was now having a hard time stepping off a sidewalk and even had to rest after doing groceries. He says: “At first, I felt completely powerless. Since I was so used to manual work, it was hard for me to renounce all my usual activities. I had trouble asking for help, I didn’t want my family members to pity me. But I know that today, they’re proud of me”.

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis is not synonymous with quitting, or it at least certainly wasn’t for Claude. In spite of going through a difficult time when he had to learn to live with a new weakened body, he believed in the strength of his determination.

To battle the effects of gravity, the pervasive force that weighed heavily on his joints, Claude started spending time at the pool, even if it was just to bend his knees: water supported his weight and was reducing the pressure on his joints.

Little by little, he started swimming laps, in spite of the piercing pain in his shoulder. Eventually, the few laps became hour-long sessions. As weeks went by, swimming became a central part of his everyday life. The now 58-year-old man states: “Sometimes, I swam 5 to 6 hours straight and lifeguards would stop me to ask how I would do it”.

Over 40 pounds lighter, Claude saw his joint pain and pressure decrease. Moreover, newly developed muscles around his joints enabled natural joint regeneration, thanks to the increased blood flow caused by physical activity. Claude felt rejuvenated. He’ll tell anyone that all this exercise probably saved him from more operations.

The confidence he gained in his body’s abilities drove him to a senseless idea, some would say, crazy even for an athlete whose body is in peak condition. In 2018, Claude registered for the “Traversée du lac St-Jean”, one of the world’s most challenging sporting events. It comprises a 32 km swim that competitors from all around the world get together to attempt every year since 1955. It’s a difficult challenge. Braving the cold waters of Lake Saint-Jean (17 °C on average) for 12 hours and 11 minutes, Claude showed unwavering focus and iron will.

“Ironically, the disease turned out to be positive for me. I started exercising regularly and took more control of my life.” While he does not encourage others to attempt the physically extreme competition of the Traversée du lac St-Jean, Claude strives to inspire others living with osteoarthritis to practise physical activity in spite of the pain in order to relieve their arthritis symptoms.

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