February 27, 2012
Keri Lanzarotta on CrossFit with Arthritis
By Chris Strauss

When she was a senior in college in 1995, Lanzarotta was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an immune disorder that attacks the synovial fluid around the joints. The disease made it nearly impossible for the former soccer player and ski racer to continue an active lifestyle until a new medication eased the pain about nine years ago. But by then, she’d already suffered some permanent joint damage in the form of decreased mobility in her wrists and elbows.

“It was five years of not doing a lot of anything except skiing,” said Lanzarotta. “Other than skiing, I didn’t do that much exercise because I was in pain.”
 “I can’t rack the bar in front so I have to hold it, which affects the movement. Still, I’ve been able to overcome a lot.”
Once her new medication made it possible to her to start exercising again, Lanzarotta tried the traditional gym route, doing running and some lightweight training routines. But she wasn’t enjoying it. After years of not being able to do much of anything, the activity she was now able to do still wasn’t fun.
“I would come home from the gym and be like, ‘I’m so bored, I do the same thing all the time and I’m not getting any stronger,’” said Lanzarotta, whose husband Jim started doing CrossFit a year earlier at CrossFit South Shore on Long Island. “He talked me into trying it and it’s become my life.”
Lanzarotta started doing CrossFit two years ago and was instantly hooked. A ninth grade earth science teacher in Massapequa, she’s seen amazing improvements in her strength, flexibility and mobility. She and Jim have also turned their workouts into family activities, often bringing their kids along to watch on the weekends.
“They’ll come with me and jump around on the pull-up bar after,” Lanzarotta said. “They’ll be doing burpees and pistols in the kitchen of our house.”
Lanzarotta has also incorporated more of a paleo diet into her family’s eating habits. She started eating paleo during her second day at CrossFit to help Jim, who had just started doing a 30-day challenge. She jokes that he “had never seen a vegetable” prior to that, and now both of them have adapted many of the principles into a regular routine. 
She’s also learned to increase her stretching and mobility work, which has helped keep her arthritis symptoms. “The foam roller has become my best friend,” she says. 
She became accomplished enough that she competed in the CrossFit Games Open last year and plans to do the same again this year. In addition to deadlifts, she’s extremely strong in her back squats and pull-ups, but has trouble with certain movements due to the past damage from her rheumatoid arthritis. 
“I have trouble with squat cleans due to my lack of wrist and elbow flexibility,” she says. “I can’t rack the bar in front so I have to hold it, which affects the movement. Still, I’ve been able to overcome a lot.”