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For Charis Hill, movement is crucial and her bike is central to this need.
You would never guess by watching Charis Hill artfully strut down the catwalk this past February, as a new model for Sacramento Fashion Week, that she is anything other than a beautiful young woman in her prime. Nor would you guess, if you caught sight of her biking daily to her jobs at Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and the Sacramento Region May is Bike Month Campaign for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, or to various modeling casting calls, that she is anything but completely healthy. You would be wrong. Charis Hill is a young woman dealing with a rare and very painful form of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).
For Hill, movement is crucial and her bike is central to this need. Being on her bike daily, she said, makes her feel powerful, independent, and in charge when in reality, dealing with such a challenging disease, she knows she isn’t. She understands that with AS she has to keep moving if she wants to be able to keep moving later today and in the future. The most challenging time for her body is at night – while she sleeps is when most of the damage occurs.
AS is such a rare form of arthritis that Hill is often the one who shares updates on research with her physician rather than the other way around. “Advocate” is not really a word she has applied to herself in the past, whether for biking or anything else, but she is getting more comfortable with the label – for her own health opportunities and those of others.
This past March she joyfully experienced DC via bike share after eloquently testifying to members of Congress in Washington as part of the National Arthritis Foundation’s annual advocacy summit.
At 27, Hill knows she is a bit old to be entering the modeling world but is taking a fresh approach that illustrates she’s in charge of her own body. This new, side career could become a positive platform for sharing her active living message. Her attitude is quickly gaining her fans and followers. Fellow models, casting agents, and photographers are first surprised then very impressed when they realize she showed up to a casting call or photo shoot by bike.
Hill began her life as a freerange kid on two wheels when her mother set her loose on her first bike around the age of five. It is that early independence that she feels serves her well throughout many aspects of her life today such as being an active advocate, arthritis spokesperson, and now a model.
“My bike is a huge reason why I’ve been so motivated not to surrender to my disease, to keep moving forward, and keep sharing my experience,” said Hill.
3 Ankylosing Spondylitis Quick Facts
Ankylosing Spondylitis is a chronic, inflammatory disease that primarily affects the sacroiliac joints (where the spine attaches to the pelvis), spine, and hip joints. Low back pain and stiffness in AS patients are worse after a period of rest or upon waking and improves after exercise, a hot bath, or a shower.
AS affects every body differently and is difficult to diagnose.
In addition to exercise, AS can be managed (but never pain-free) with certain medications.
Melissa Balmer is a writer, speaker, media specialist, and the Director of the Women on Bikes California.