By Victoria Gaither
Arthritis is usually associated with older people, but a teenager in North Chittenden is on a mission to show another face of the debilitating condition.
Dylan Aker, 16, has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which causes joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
“For the first year, I was stiff in the morning. It would be hard to wake up and I was in pain,” said Aker.
It was during Covid that he was diagnosed with the condition. His mother, Karel Aker, thought her son was not feeling well, and having aches were a normal part of growing up until “he could no longer walk, we knew it was more,” she said. “There was a flood of emotions. We felt uncertain, we had fears of the unknown.”
The skier held it inside, not wanting to tell his friends and others in his inner circle what he was going through.
Aker, now taking 40 prescribed pills a week, with every joint hurting except his toes, found relief on the mountain.
“It hasn’t stopped me from skiing. I think skiing helps it: I love it so much. I’ll ski no matter what,” he said one day at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel.
The challenging aspect of the arthritis is that Aker doesn’t look sick except when he walks. His movements are slow if you look closely and the condition will be with him for life.
“It’s a lifetime thing, so it will always be with me,” he said. “It’s weird to think about, so I try not to think about it, especially when I’m skiing.”
Feeling more confident and understanding more about his condition, Aker decided to speak about it to educate and show a different face of arthritis.
“I want to show that young people suffer from it,” he said.
On the day of the interview, just back from the hospital, Aker had a cast put on his hand after a trick landed him on a rail, injuring his thumb.
He is used to the risk involved in skiing but not so much explaining about a medical condition that’s hard to see.
“Look at everyone with kindness because you don’t know what someone is going through,” Aker said. “They could be going through something very good or bad.”
Despite his aches, pain, and injuries, he went to Colorado for the National USASA Free Ski competition.
A testament to his never-give-up attitude with arthritis running through his body,
he said, “Never stop doing what you love. I would say skiing saved me.”
His mother added, “We are so super proud of him. Dylan seems to see the issues that he faces with priority. He has transformed what is considered a crippling disease into a source of strength and motivation.”