You’d never guess that Chris Cronick has survived open-heart surgery, blood sepsis, pneumonia, six joint replacements, and that she continues to live with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease.
The uber-fit 38-year-old from New Brighton leads spinning classes at Surge cycling in St. Louis Park and is working on her personal training certification. The 2013 Lupus Foundation of Minnesota ambassador, who shares her inspirational story with schools, businesses and nursing homes, talked with us about silver linings, staying focused on goals and finding balance in her life.
An unwanted career
I was a figure skater until I was about 17, and then I started to teach aerobics. I was very active; I had that kind of discipline about me. And then I started having horrible pain when I was 22 or 23. I was going to school full time, planning a wedding and working out, so I thought maybe it had something to do with all of that. But when I went to the doctor, he said, “You have rheumatoid arthritis.” That was the start of my disease career.
They were throwing meds at me and nothing was working. Anything that remotely worked started to pack on the weight. When I was 28, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. That diagnosis helped because it focused me back on nutrition and I could start to connect the dots between what I ate and how I felt. I went strictly gluten-free and started to feel a little bit better but, unfortunately, the consequences of all the meds caught up to me, and at 30 I had had my first hip replacement. Four months later I had my second one.
Through rose-colored glasses
I tend to look at this stuff and ask, “What’s the silver lining?” With the hip replacements, I was able to get my mobility back and it was a catalyst to lose weight. I hadn’t discovered spinning yet, but I did a little bit of elliptical, and I set up a gym in my house. I had six joint replacements in four years from damage from the rheumatoid arthritis and the medications.
A world spinning
If you have one autoimmune disease you tend to have others, and in August of 2010 my immune system crashed. I had horrible fevers and no appetite. I went to my rheumatologist, and he said, “I think you might have lupus.” After hundreds of tests and being hospitalized off and on for six months, I was officially diagnosed. Once they figured out what it was, they knew how to treat it, and it started working wonders.
Once I had that under control, I had all this energy and I felt like myself again. That’s when I joined a gym and found spinning. I used to run and I didn’t think I could get a workout like that again, so spinning was like, “Oh, yeah!”
About a year after the lupus diagnosis, I got the news that I would need open heart surgery. The blood sepsis had settled into my heart valves and caused scarring, so the valves were leaking too much blood. Looking back, it was my easiest surgery. I would think, “OK, what’s going to be my goal to get through this?” I decided in six months I wanted to get certified to teach spinning. That’s what I did. Now I teach three times a week, and I do the elliptical at the gym and those stair machines that kick your butt, but are easy on the joints. I also do light weights and isometric stuff and Pilates, and the stationary bike and core stuff on the ball at home.
Halving her weight
At one point I was 130 pounds heavier than I am today. Sometimes I can’t even wrap my head around it. My weight loss began in 2006, right around my first hip replacement. I was able to move a little bit better from less pain and so having a little more mobility helped. I lost about five to 10 pounds with each consecutive surgery. Celiac disease has forced me to look at nutrition differently and make that mind/body connection. My motto: We are overfed but undernourished. I was all about feeding my body proper nutrition. I dropped even more weight almost organically. I never count calories, I make sure to eat protein, fats and veggies every time I eat.
A new reality
I still am in chronic pain, but having chronic pain is just my reality. I mold my life around it. Technically, my disease is in remission. I go in to the doctor and they check the inflammation in my body. At any given time, it can flare because of lack of sleep, not taking care of my body. Life just kind of stops and I have to get in bed. It makes planning things tricky, which is why I work so hard at not getting to that point.