As a triathlete and Ironman champion, Angela Naeth is used to putting her body through its paces.
But these days the Easton resident, who splits her time in Colorado, is fighting through something far more grueling — Lyme disease.
Naeth was diagnosed with the tick-borne bacteria infection in 2018, after inexplicable pain in her legs worsened to the point where the longtime runner was left struggling to walk.
After battling to regain her strength following a round of intense antibiotic treatments last year, Naeth, 37, is fighting the disease once more. But the 2018 Columbia Threadneedle Investments Boston Triathlon winner remains just as determined to kick the illness and keep up with the sport she calls “my love.”
“It’s a process, Lyme, and it definitely takes a toll on the body,” Naeth said. “But if you believe you can get better, I have 100% faith that you can.”
A track runner in school, Naeth returned home to her native Canada after college and took up triathlons as a way to stay active. She soon quit her job to train and compete full time in races including half and full Ironmans — the latter of which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile marathon, and lasts about nine hours.
“It’s really a lifestyle,” Naeth said.
Naeth is “extremely talented,” and a “very strong cyclist, one of the strongest in the sport,” said Tim Snow, her boyfriend and coach. Naeth lives with Snow part-time in Easton, and spends the remainder of her time in Colorado.
Naeth’s Lyme disease symptoms began with quad pain she developed late in the 2017 season — not long after recovering from foot surgery.
“It got worse and worse to a point where I couldn’t walk. I tried to run and my body just kind of shut down,” she said. “I went from running two hours to basically being hardly able to come out of bed.”
Naeth thought she broke her leg, but an MRI only showed inflammation. She spent months despairing, pain and misdiagnoses triggering depression and anxiety, before a specialist finally diagnosed her with Lyme in May 2018.
“I thought I was losing my mind when I was first trying to figure it out. I was the epitome of health on paper. No one could really find anything wrong with me. I even was tested for Lyme and it came back negative,” Naeth said. “When I found out I finally had a diagnosis, it was just a relief. Now I knew a path to get better.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention receives about 30,000 reports of Lyme disease annually, but estimates put the true number of cases at about 300,000 per year. Its prevalence has been increasing in Massachusetts, said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Symptoms can range from flu-like fever and muscle aches, to more serious complications including arthritis and nerve issues, he said.
Naeth’s [treatment] hit her hard. At times, Snow said they didn’t know whether it was the disease or the drugs making Naeth sick.
But Naeth persevered, making her comeback by placing first in last year’s Boston and Lobsterman triathlons, and 8th in the Ironman World Championships. That success was temporarily derailed when her symptoms returned in January and she began treatment again.
Naeth is staying positive. She now has “70% of her body back” — enough to compete in the Ironman 70.3 in Chattanooga, Tenn., this past weekend, and to work toward defending her Boston title in July. “The love of the sport” keeps her going, Naeth said, as does “I Race Like a Girl,” the community of female endurance athletes she’s fostered online and at races.
Snow said Naeth’s resilience is “remarkable. … She’s strong, she’s aggressive, she doesn’t take no for an answer — at all.”
As she fights to regain her footing, Naeth is also working to spread awareness about Lyme.
“The biggest thing is never give up and be your own self advocate,” she said. “You really need to fight for your own health.”
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LymeNow or the LymeNow community.