Olympic snowboarder joins team Arthritis Research Canada


Arthritis Research Canada is excited to announce Team Canada’s Spencer O’Brien as its official spokesperson.


O’Brien was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – a serious autoimmune disease whereby the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints – at age 25 and just months before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. At the time, she was world champion and considered a medal favourite.


“I felt like I was on top of the world,” O’Brien said. “I was checking things off my bucket list of life goals so quickly and I thought, ‘I’m going to win an Olympic medal. I’m going to check that off the list too.’ But seven months before Sochi, everything started to fall apart.”


O’Brien first noticed aches and pains in her knees and ankles, which she attributed to a lack of stretching and old injuries. As the pain escalated, she couldn’t lift her shoulders past 90 degrees and struggled to walk down a set of stairs. Doctors diagnosed her with various conditions like bursitis, atrophy, a baker’s cyst and capsulitis, but every time her body healed, something else went wrong.


It wasn’t until over half a year later that O’Brien received her diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis – a disease she thought only affected people much older than herself.


“I knew nothing about how arthritis could be treated or handled and to me it almost felt like a death sentence for my career,” she said. “I assumed that I had put my body through so much and it was going to be like any other injury where I just had to rehab it and that was going to be fine. Being 25 years old and finding out that I had a disease that was never going away was shattering.”


Worried that her snowboarding career might be over, O’Brien tried different medications, kept her health struggles secret and pushed her diagnosis to the back of her mind so she could focus on competing in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.


O’Brien recognizes that research plays an important role in understanding arthritis and finding answers for the 350 million people worldwide living with the pain and disability of this disease. She also believes her life would be very different if it weren’t for research.


“I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing right now if it weren’t for arthritis research,” she said. When doctors told me about my diagnosis, I didn’t think in a million years that I’d still be able to be a professional snowboarder and jump off 70-foot jumps. I didn’t think I’d be able to get back to where I was, and I didn’t just do that, I went on to become one of the best in the world again.”


Looking back, O’Brien wishes she had opened up sooner about her rheumatoid arthritis. Now, as Arthritis Research Canada’s spokesperson, she tells her story to dispel the myth that only older people get arthritis. She also hopes to inspire those with the disease to take comfort in the fact that, through arthritis research, they can find answers and get the help needed to get back on their feet and achieve a high quality of life.




Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research centre in North America. Our mission is to transform the lives of people living with arthritis through research and engagement. Led by world-renowned rheumatologist, Dr. John Esdaile, Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific team of over 100 are creating a future where people living with arthritis are empowered to triumph over pain and disability. With centres located in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, Arthritis Research Canada is leading research aimed at arthritis prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, and quality of life issues.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:  

Heather Caulder

Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Arthritis Research Canada

604-207-4010 or hcaulder@arthritisresearch.ca

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