Our Spokesperson - Spencer O'Brien

Team Canada’s Spencer O’Brien was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis just a few months before competing at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.


At the time, the 25 year old was one of the world’s top ranked snowboarders.


Spencer 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 could barely 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.


“My body just exploded,” she said. “After months of unknowns, I received the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. I was devastated and thought, ‘How can a high-impact sport and inflammatory arthritis go hand in hand?’”   


Giving Arthritis a Voice


Worried that her snowboarding career might be over, Spencer 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 Winter Games. Looking back, she wishes she had opened up sooner about her experience.

“When I found out about my illness, I didn’t think it could happen to someone like me, so I want to make sure people know it can happen to anyone and that there is a way out. You can still live the life you want to live. 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. 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.”


Now, as Arthritis Research Canada’s spokesperson, Spencer hopes her journey dispels the myth that only older people get arthritis and inspires 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 Through Spencer’s Eyes

Arthritis: The Invisible Illness

An arthritis diagnosis can be a frustrating experience. Find out how Spencer felt about her diagnosis and symptoms.

Someone like me can’t get arthritis!

Discover why Spencer decided to speak out about her RA diagnosis and become Arthritis Research Canada’s spokesperson.

Arthritis Research Saves Lives

Spencer doesn’t know if she would have made it to two Olympics after her RA diagnosis if it weren’t for arthritis research.

Compassion Makes a Big Difference

For Spencer, compassion is key when it comes to dealing with someone suffering with arthritis.

Raising Awareness to Inspire Others


Scientific Director Emeritus, Dr. John Esdaile thanks Spencer O’Brien for sharing her inspiring story and highlights the importance of arthritis research. “We need everyone to know more about arthritis, the 100 types of arthritis and how early diagnosis is going to guarantee a much better, longer, happier life.”