An Amersham sportsman is pursuing his dream of being a professional triathlete – despite being diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis.
Max Poplawski, 26, was a keen swimmer, cyclist and runner before he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis nine years ago. This progressive form of arthritis – in which the spine and other areas of the body become inflamed – will likely worsen as Max gets older, so he decided to seize the opportunity and become a professional triathlete this year.
Max explained: “I will regret this if I don’t take this opportunity, as hard as it’s going to be. I might have only one season, or I could have 10. I just don’t know, so I decided to grab the chance.”
The athlete had always been active in sports, from swimming to rugby, since he was a child, until his arthritis forced him to quit.
He was diagnosed at just 17 years old. A capable athlete sitting in a doctor’s office after nine months of trying to secure a diagnosis, he heard the words: “You won’t be able to return to sport in the capacity you are used to. Do you understand? You won’t be able to handle competitive sport with the level of fusion and degradation present.”
Max remembers sitting there thinking to himself: “F**k that. The only person who is going to tell me what I can and can’t do is me.”
“This is just the game that gets played. we all get dealt cards in life, and we have to come up with solutions and not excuses.”
He went to university and gradually got back into sports, starting with water polo, rock climbing, and then running, even completing a half marathon and an ultramarathon.
As he was already training in all three sports – swimming, cycling and running – Max’s dad suggested he try a triathlon.
Max quickly excelled in the endurance event and became a successful amateur triathlete. Speaking on making the move to professional racing, Max said: “It validates the years of sacrifice. I think it’s important to look at it as the whole nine years since I was diagnosed, with a lot of background work of getting healthy. The athlete inside of me recognised this as the very beginning of the next stage. It’s a little bit daunting and intimidating.
“I have impostor syndrome. There are other people who have been racing for years since they were kids and while I got there quickly, which is nice in a way, I have a steep learning curve in front of me, but it’s exciting.”
Max is supposed to take on his first professional race next month, but due to issues with his arthritis, he may have to delay until May/June.
He said: “This is just the game that gets played. “I’m not sure I am going to be healthy enough to go. We all get dealt cards in life, and we have to come up with solutions and not excuses.
“The issue for me is that I’m not racing in an arthritic category; that doesn’t exist. I’m racing against everyone else; I have to try and do what everyone else is doing.”
Max sacrifices his social life to train 25 hours a week while also working full-time and studying for his bar exam to become a lawyer.
To keep up with Max and his future competitions, follow him on Instagram @Maxtryathlete.
Picture credit: Maxpoplawski.com