Movement as Medicine

Helgi Olafson completes epic 2,855-mile human powered Trans Triple Crown

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Helgi Olafson studies the map during his 2,855 mile Trans Triple Crown adventure. Photo by Nathaniel Bailey Photography.
Helgi Olafson studies the map during his 2,855 mile Trans Triple Crown adventure. Photo by Nathaniel Bailey Photography.

Helgi Olafson was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), an inflammatory arthritis condition affecting the spine and large joints, at the age of 19 after experiencing intense back pain. Doctors explained to him that when you’re living with chronic pain, exercise may seem impossible, but leading a sedentary lifestyle could aggravate symptoms. And while difficult, physical activity, exercise and movement can help to improve joint flexibility and lessen the pain and stiffness caused by Ankylosing Spondylitis. 

Armed with this simple but powerful idea, Olafson took his doctor’s advice and ran with it. Literally, he started running and has become an accomplished ultra endurance athlete. Despite his severe condition, Olafson has completed some of the world’s hardest physical challenges. And throughout this journey, he has lived with the simple mantra of “exercise and movement as medicine” to deal with the complications of Ankylosing Spondylitis. 

“I see Ankylosing Spondylitis as a blessing and am thankful to have the opportunity to inspire people. When I race, I’m not just out there trying to cross the finish line for myself, I’m carrying the torch for so many others who suffer from the challenging conditions of AS and arthritis,” he says. 

Olafson doesn’t just run to help manage his own condition, but he runs to support those who may not be able to. An avid patient advocate in the spondylitis and arthritis communities, Olafson has been working with the Spondylitis Association of America for over a decade, raising awareness to promote exercise and movement as a form of medicine to fight the impending immobility caused by AS. 

But Olafson wanted to do more and has taken his “movement as medicine” mantra to a whole new level. Over the past few months, he has been on an epic 2,855-mile journey known as the Trans Triple Crown. A self-curated adventure which includes running three different 200 plus mile ultramarathons across some of the toughest mountain terrain in the country.

“It’s been an adventure of a lifetime,” Olafon told us, “made all the more special knowing that everything we’re doing is helping to raise funds and awareness for the Spondylitis Association of America.” 

For even the most experienced endurance athlete, running all three races (which are located in Washington, Idaho and Utah) over a short 10-week period is an intense challenge. But deciding to use only human power and cycling the over 2000 miles from race to race adds an entirely new component to this test of human performance.

Helgi Olafson cycling over two thousand miles in between his three 200-mile ultramarathons. Photo by Nathaniel Bailey Photography.

Yesterday, as the sun set behind the red rock mountains of Moab, Utah, Olafson completed the 2,855-mile Trans Triple Crown journey. Crossing the final finish line at the Moab 240 ultramarathon, he not only set a new milestone within the ultra distance community, but he has shown those living with Ankylosing Spondylitis that anything is possible. 

“Running those final 240 miles across the desert, canyons and mountains of Utah was incredibly difficult. There were definitely times when I wanted to give up, but I kept going knowing that I was out there for a reason,” said Olafson. 

This incredible athlete and advocate epitomizes someone who has reimagined the boundaries of what’s possible and never stops searching for the other side of his limits. Not just through his many endurance endeavors, but in the way he gives back to support the Spondylitis Association of America and all those living with AS and arthritis. 

When asked what’s next, Olafson smiled and told us, “I’m so happy to have finished this incredible adventure. What’s next? I don’t know right now, but there’ll be something to keep me moving.”

To learn more about Helgi Olafson or make a donation to support this worthwhile cause, please visit his website. At the time of this writing, Olafon had raised $19,000 of his $28,550 goal of raising $10 for every mile of his journey.

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