Long QT Syndrome – My Sport Isn’t All I’m Crushing
I think this may be my favourite blog series yet. Being able to shine a spotlight on some of the most resilient athletes I know is so exciting and I have heard a similar story from all of you. So far, we have chatted stage four cancer, broken hips, hyperthyroidism and last week, Multiple Sclerosis. This week, we are chatting with the very strong and very beautiful Krysten Siba Bishop.
I met Krysten through the blogging community a number of years ago.
She has always been one of the most hopeful, happy and brilliant people I have the pleasure of knowing. But it is best explained by her.
Tell me a little bit about your sport. What led you to it?
I would probably say that I am primarily a runner. But truthfully, I just like being active. I dabble in multi-sport, yoga, crossfit, HIIT workouts, and Pilates depending on my mood. But running is definitely my one constant.
I sort of stumbled into my love running. I hated running as a kid. Track and Cross Country gave me anxiety, and I dreaded the idea of racing. But I always like the “idea of running” that person up before the sun with nothing but their own discipline and drive pushing them forward. That was a notion that always resonated with me.
After getting diagnosed with Heart Condition (Long QT syndrome) and being fitted with my first pacemaker/defibrillator, I wasn’t in a healthy place. I had struggled to stabilize my condition. I had gained weight, from a combination of stress eating and inactivity (prescribed by my cardio team). And I wanted very much to regain the life I had, and shed the label of diagnosis.
I started to slowly change my lifestyle. I became a vegetarian. And I started going to gym, mostly using the elliptical. Over the long weekend, the gym was closed, but I still wanted to workout, so I begrudgingly put on running shoes and went for a run. That night I was talking to a friend (who was a “real” runner) about my workout. And she told me I had run about 4km.
I was shocked. But also, immediately hooked. I was so close to running 5km. And then I wanted to be able to run 10km. and my passion grew from there.
For a long time, I didn’t race. I just ran to see how far I go.
But over time, I added in races to help keep me accountable and focus my training. And I have loved it all ever since.
What is your proudest moment in your sport?
My second marathon is definitely my proudest moment.
My first marathon, was a disaster. I had no clue what I was doing training-wise. I made every newbie mistake possible – I over-trained, went out too fast, fueled terribly, you name I probably did it.
The lead up to my second marathon was extremely stressful. I had to have surgery at the beginning of the year to adjust one of the wires of my pacemaker/defibrillator and revise the pocket. Then in August, I unexpectedly lost my Dad.
I very easily could have walked away from that race, but I chose to keep training. And the training ended up being my peaceful place. It helped me process a lot of grief, stress, and anxiety.
The race itself was everything I wanted it to be. I smiled through the entire race. And I cut 50 mins off my first marathon time. I don’t think there will ever be another race that can match the way I felt that day crossing the finish line.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
Hmmmm… these days it is kind of mixed bag.
I have a 14 month old daughter and I have just recently transitioned back to work full-time after Mat Leave. Between my long work hours, commute time, and family life – I have not had as much time as I would like for training. But I am trying to just take life as it comes. Not every stage of life is the same, and becoming a Mom has been a lesson in prioritizing.
Training is very much about health right now, and less about performance. I am focusing on shorter distances for the time being and incorporating more HIIT workouts. It took a LONG time postpartum for training to feel good again. (much longer than I was anticipating) But I am finally there.
Most weeks I try to do 2x runs and 2x HITT workouts. But there have definitely been some weeks, where even that doesn’t happen.
When did you find out about your heart diagnosis and what effect has that had on your sport?
I was diagnosed with long QT when I was 17. For about 2 years I put exercise on hold. Exercise can trigger cardiac events in arrhythmia patients, so we needed to make sure my condition has stabilized with my treatment plan.
Now for the most part, there are very few limitations. I always train with a Heart Rate monitor, to make sure I stay below a certain threshold. And then in terms of performance gains, progress can take longer. Especially, to see changes in overall cardiovascular endurance.
I remember there was a girl with the same name as me at my high school who had a heart condition. When I tried to try out for the cross country team, they flagged it and told me I couldn’t run. You must have had some resistance to your activities in the past. How did you overcome them? What adjustments have you needed to make?
The cardio team tends to be very conservative about their approach to exercise in arrhythmia patients. And I have definitely had some resistance to training, specifically for endurance events along the way.
There aren’t a lot of case studies available, mostly because my condition is very rare. But I have always argued that regular exercise and training actually minimizes my symptoms. Earlier in my diagnosis, I struggled with dizzy spells and what I termed “bad days”, days where I felt shaky, weak, and tired. Since changing my lifestyle, those days almost never happen. My experience is purely anecdotal, but it has had a huge impact on my life.
My Cardio Team actually made me go through the diagnosis process again a couple years ago, because with my pacing treatment and a healthy lifestyle, I never experience any symptoms. I definitely still have Long QT, but making health a priority has helped me manage my condition, even better than my cardio team thought possible.
What would you say your heart condition has gifted you as an athlete?
Hahaha probably not much from athletic standpoint.
But seriously, it has definitely given me perspective.
I am by no means the fastest person out there. I am a pretty solid middle of the pack racer. But performance isn’t why I race and train. Each run/race is a reminder of how lucky I am to be out there and healthy. It is all a celebration of having a strong and capable body. And I do not take that for granted.
What is your greatest piece of advice for a new athlete with a similar diagnosis?
Be patient. Listen to your body. Start slow.
When you look at the highlights, it makes it sound like I was diagnosed and then just off running marathons. But in reality, the changes were much slower and much more gradual. There was almost 10 years between my diagnosis and my first marathon. And I am still trying to figure out what works best for me diet-wise. And I am always adjusting my training to fit with my lifestyle and my goals.
Take your time. Work with your doctors. And know that even when it feels dark and overwhelming, there is light on the other side.
Where can people find you online?
I don’t blog anymore. But I am still on social media, even though it is not as frequently
@darwinianfail (Twitter + Instagram)
Definitely give this girl a follow. She is beyond inspiring and it was such a gift to have her featured here. Happy Friday, friends!