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Overcoming Pain and Pushing Boundaries: Jennifer Mann

Despite Ankylosing Spondylitis, Jennifer Mann continues overcoming pain and pushing boundaries
Jennifer Mann
Year started: 2023
Next race: March 2024, Deciding between a half marathon and 3-hour trail race
Favorite gear:
  • Zoot Tri Shorts
  • Saucony Endorphin Speed Running Shoes

Jennifer Mann was first drawn to fitness through Yoga. She used it as a way to lose the baby weight after her second child. What started as a fitness quest following postpartum depression took an enlightening turn. “It just totally blew my mind…It opened my mind,” Jennifer recalled of her first yoga class. While the physical practice helped manage her joint inflammation issues, the mental/spiritual impact was equally profound. “It was an outlet…It dramatically helped me at that time.” Little did Jennifer know it would set her on a transformative path of overcoming pain and pushing boundaries. 

A Shocking Diagnosis

Jennifer went on to teach yoga for 9 years before pursuing other fitness certifications. She was drawn to high-energy formats like spin and kickboxing which gave her “a totally different feeling” than yoga. As Jennifer explained, “I lost [the yoga], I think. My heart wasn’t in it…I was connecting more to a high output fitness class.” While making time for her passion amidst motherhood wasn’t always easy, Jennifer insists you have to make that space and time for yourself. Little did she know at the time that fitness and self-care would prove invaluable in the wake of a shocking diagnosis in her mid-30s. After years struggling with mysterious pain that even stumped doctors, Jennifer learned she has Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and joints.

Doubling Down on Lifestyle Changes

As Jennifer recounts, her first medical professional wasn’t very encouraging. “He told me you need to give yourself injections for the rest of your life,” she recalled. Jennifer rejected this fate, doubling down on lifestyle changes instead. “I really changed my diet, my fitness…Everything just kind of came together and I changed how I was as a person.” While her condition could be unpredictable, exacerbated by things as simple as sleeping the wrong way, Jennifer persevered. “If I stop moving, that’s when things are going to get way worse for me,” she explained.


Keep Your Body Moving 

Remarkably, less than 2 weeks after battling her “worst flare up ever” on vacation, Jennifer competed in her first Half Ironman triathlon. When pain left her barely able to walk to the bathroom, doubts crept in. But Jennifer persisted, toeing the line at her 70.3 mile race thanks to sheer determination. Although finishing the swim and the bike, she could not participate in the run due to being 9 minutes late. Jennifer was heartbroken.  Despite this setback, she refuses to stop, seeing 2024 as her year of redemption. “It’s not an option to just rest 7 days a week. You have to keep your body moving with this disease, that’s the biggest thing.” Her mantra is simple: “Just keep doing it. Keep going, keep that body in motion.” 

Community Support 

Jennifer draws inspiration from her dad who remarkably has cycled most of his life despite his own Ankylosing Spondylitis. “I really didn’t know about my dad having it until I was older, until around when I was diagnosed,” she stated. But community support has also been paramount. Initially struggling to connect with others amidst an online sea of non-active AS patients, Jennifer lights up after finding ultrarunner Brandon Hozack’s Instagram account. “I was like ‘Oh my god, look what he does, and he has this!’”

What Else Can I Do? 

She urges others to keep pushing themselves while also realizing, “Nobody is ever going to understand how you feel.” Jennifer focuses instead on being her own cheerleader through proper self-care. “You need to start doing these things for yourself,” she says, emphasizing, “I got this.” Approaching 40 with 3 kids, Jennifer insists the possibilities remain wide open, both in sports and life. “There’s more. What else can I do?” she says. Clearly, for this triathlete who knows first-hand “your body is trying to stop you from doing these things,” pushing boundaries is a way of life, AS notwithstanding. The disease may challenge her in ways others can’t understand, but Jennifer Mann consistently rises above. Jennifer continues overcoming pain and pushing boundaries, having her sights set on a full Ironman.