Competitive Freerunner, Parkour Athlete, and 4-Time American Ninja Warrior
Current health: “Better, but not 100%”
Elet Hall is a competitive athlete and Lyme survivor. The parkour expert is a four-time competitor on American Ninja Warrior, where he is known as “The Natural” for his seemingly effortless runs. The first two years he successfully made it to the Las Vegas finals despite suffering from undiagnosed Lyme disease. Shortly after the 2013 finals, he woke up one day with facial paralysis and his joints and limbs numbed with fatigue. After being diagnosed and successfully treated for Lyme disease, he again returned in 2014 to triumph in his third attempt at the competition. After dominating Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the national finals, Elet finally succumbed to the floating doors in Stage 3, coming in 2nd place in his third attempt at the competition.
This year, Elet again returned to the ANW stage, with a dominating “run of the night” at the 2015 Pittsburgh Qualifiers. (Check out Elet’s facebook page for the video!) and then headed to the Pittsburgh City Finals on August 10th. At the finals, Elet had a tough run, narrowly surviving a missed grab on the monkey bars before finally slipping on the last few doorknobs. Even with the surprising fall, however, Hall still was among the fastest finalists, qualifying him to move on to Las Vegas for the national finals and the battle for a $1 million grand prize. [Read here for more about the August finals.) Unfortunately it was not Elet’s year to walk away with the grand prize but we will be rooting for him in next year’s competition!!
Here he shares his story about Lyme disease:
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me to share my Lyme disease story and how I manage athletics with chronic Lyme disease. Here it is … My experience with lyme disease began when I was brushing my teeth on a slow summer morning. I had just returned from Myrtle Beach, SC, which I had been visiting with some friends. As I looked into the mirror and began to show the teeth I was to brush my heart rate increased. I couldn’t smile, not normally anyway. The left side of my mouth wouldn’t move — frozen (though my mind was anything but!). I tried to raise an eyebrow as I attempted to recall a cause. I was on muscle relaxers for whiplash? I could’ve had a stroke? What is it?
I stared into the mirror and tried to raise an eyebrow, then both. Nothing. I tested my dexterity, my strength, and them spoke aloud to try to rule out a stroke. I thought, it could be inflammation from the whiplash or a concussion from my fall— both of which would be very serious. I calmed myself and decided I didn’t have the resources to understand this problem, so I called my doctor.
The week prior I had been enjoying the beach with my friends. … One night I had a rough go-in with a skim board, ending up bleeding from several places but mostly feeling “lame.” Not a big deal though. I gave up on the board and went back to more sedentary diversions. The next day I woke up and got sick. I thought maybe I had drank a bit too much the night before, but not enough to warrant this kind of reaction. All day I was vomiting and had diarrhea. Then that afternoon I started to get chills. An old knee pain came back worse than it had ever been. I had pain shooting from my ankles to my hips, my toes and fingers were tingling, and it felt like all my cartilage had been replaced with sandpaper. Rough week, I thought, and decided to tone down the rest of the trip. I figured I had just been partying too much. It didn’t improve. By the time we took the 10-hour drive home it was all I could do to lie in the back seat of the car and keep breathing. I had headaches, nausea, and shooting pains in my legs and back.
On my return home I went to see my doctor. My neck was a knot from the skimboard fall. The flu symptoms had subsided, but I had figured they would when I quit drinking and eating out. I couldn’t turn my head left or look up at all and my knee still felt like hell. My doctor told me it was whiplash and prescribed some muscle relaxers. Easy enough, I didn’t even bother him with the rest of my symptoms. That evening my face began to twitch. I have had muscle spasms and cramps for years and rarely were they anything other than acute dehydration so I drank some water and laughed about it with my friends.
Then the next morning I woke up and brushed my teeth.
When I visited the doctor a second time he told me I had Bell’s palsy and probably Lyme disease. I had a blood test done and in the interim I began a month of antibiotics and 10 days of steroids to reduce inflammation in my neck. As I’m sure many of you know, this was a prescription to a brief daily hell of migraines, nausea, and malaise. My flu-like symptoms decreased and the pain in most of my joints eased, but my facial paralysis stayed. Joint pains that I had been living with for years, assuming it was overtraining or muscular imbalances, slowly began to subside.
I was seeing a chiropractor and getting regular massage but over that month it didn’t improve at all. While stretching one night I rested my neck on my foam roller and under light pressure I was able to feel a tingle in my face! It could move ever so slightly. After nearly 2 months I could finally get a tiny response. Over the next 2 weeks use of the left half of my face slowly returned to about 80%.
That was last year and I wish the overt symptoms were the worst I experienced. My memory is shot, I lack energy, and I walk around in a fog. My endurance and muscular recovery, which at this point in my training should not plague me, are regularly an issue. It often takes me 3 days to recover from 1 day of training, both mentally and physically. If I have a particularly exciting day I can expect to feel beat down, depressed and uncoordinated the next, a challenging outlook for an athlete.
I’m learning to manage, and I CAN still train. In fact during exercise is the clearest I usually feel. But I have to pay very close attention to how far I push myself.
My essentials for continuing to progress as an Lyme athlete:
1. Proper hydration to stave off muscle cramps and numbness/tingling in my fingers and toes when I become acutely dehydrated. I drink a gallon of water a day.
2. Eating clean. I don’t follow a specific diet plan but in order to reduce inflammation it’s important to keep track of what foods help you manage it. I eat mostly fruits and veggies, rice and beans, chicken, and eggs. Dairy doesn’t affect my inflammation but refined sugar and red meat do.
3. Sleep! Get enough! How much is up to you. If at all possible I try to take a quick nap before 1 pm. I feel almost like my old self in the few hours following this. It’s so important to get enough sleep to help our overtaxed CNS to recover.
4. Supplements – I use a lot of supplements and what I’ve found is a good effect. I’ve looked over the studies regarding most of them and experimented personally to find what does and doesn’t work for me. If you have the resources, I’d recommend you do the same. My mainstays: Probiotics- the immune system is built in the gut, a healthy gut will help fight your infection and help produce healthy neurotransmitter levels; Fish Oil- reduces inflammation, improves brain and nerve function; B vitamins- improve energy production, brain and nerve function; Ginkgo Biloba- improves blood flow to the brain, has been shown to help improve memory retention and speed; Glucosamine & Chondroitin – the building blocks of cartridge and connective tissue, provides resources necessary to regenerate joints.
5. Caffeine! I was never a coffee drinker before Lyme disease but it sure helps now. When I need to perform on a particularly bad day, a little jolt always helps. I can’t drink a whole cup or muscle cramps, palpitations, and dizziness occur. But there is a green zone where it definitely improves my performance, focus, memory, and direction. It’s like turning on the fog lights.
In the past few months some of my symptoms have been getting worse again. I don’t have insurance so I can’t affordably seek medical advice, but I’ve been able to manage pretty well so far.
I’d like to hear what other people have found that works and also what doesn’t. So leave me a comment or shoot me a message with what you do!”
Edited and reprinted with permission of the Elet Hall.
Large photo credit: Kevin G. Gilbert.