Olympians with Sjögren’s Triumph and Spread Awareness

The United States just concluded its most successful Olympics to date with a total of 104 medals, 46 of them gold–more than any other country. As I watched the games from my comfy couch, I shared in the tears and triumphs of our U.S. athletes. But two athletes in particular stood out for me:  tennis player Venus Williams and soccer team member Shannon Boxx who have both been diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome. Sjögren’s is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own cells attack moisture producing glands as well as other organ systems resulting in dry eyes and mouth, fatigue, and organ dysfunction.

While every Olympic contender has had obstacles to overcome along the path to the Olympic Games, these two athletes in particular share struggles in common with many in our BFS community. They persevered in the face of this serious illness, achieved gold medals for their efforts, and were an inspiration for those of us who personally understand the difficulties presented by Sjögren’s Syndrome.

Venus Williams had the honor of carrying the torch on World Sjogren’s Day on July 23rd. In her desire to spread awareness about Sjögren’s Syndrome, she quotes: “This Olympics is very special to me having battled through an autoimmune disease in the last year. It was my dream come true to qualify for the Olympics. To carry the torch today on World Sjögren’s Day was so fitting. My run with the flame today represented triumph for everyone battling an autoimmune disease.” And triumph she did, winning a gold medal with her sister in the women’s doubles competition.

The U.S. women’s soccer team earned a gold medal as well with participation from Shannon Boxx, who has been speaking out about Sjögren’s Syndrome as well in order to increase awareness. She generously donated a signed jersey to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation for auction in support their research programs to help uncover the mysteries of this illness. She continues to speak about the challenges presented by Sjögren’s to help others understand its impact.

As the closing ceremonies ended with fireworks, fanfare, and the passing of the flag to Rio for the next summer Olympic Games, I still remained awestruck at these competitors’ achievements and the challenges presented by chronic illness that they were able to overcome in pursuit of their successes. Who inspired you the most during the 2012 Olympic Games?