Living With Lyme

X-Games athlete Angeli VanLaanen shares her struggle with Lyme disease.
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X-Games athlete Angeli VanLaanen shares her struggle with Lyme disease.

In November, 2011, pro freeskier Angeli VanLaanen graced the first all-female cover of Skiing magazine, shot by Re Wikstrom.  At the time of print, she was still living with an invisible infection—one she wasn't aware of for fourteen years. It started in her preteen years with fainting spells and sinus infections. During high school in  Bellingham, Washington, she developed dyslexia. In her twenties—while rounding up international podiums in superpipe and slopestyle, and filming video segments—she developed debilitating panic attacks and anxiety. Doctors had no clue all these symptoms were related, not even when she developed arthritis.

That all changed when her aunt saw the film Under Our Skin, a scientific documentary on Lyme disease. The facts added up enough for VanLaanen to question years of prior diagnoses. In November 2009 she was diagnosed with Lyme disease—putting her professional ski career on hold.

Lyme disease, when caught early, can be treated in just a few weeks with antibiotics. VanLaanen wasn’t so lucky. “It was like having the rug totally pulled out from under me,” Says VanLaanen. “I was on antibiotics for two and a half years, towards the end I was on I.V. antibiotics. “ VanLaanen went from being a world-class athlete to “taking a walk around the block” to be active.

Today VanLaanen, age 26, is nearly symptom free. She plans to re-ignite her ski career this winter, and even return to competition—though her battle with Lyme isn’t over yet. VanLaanen is determined to raise Lyme awareness, and help eliminate misdiagnosis for others. She plans to film a documentary chronicling her own struggle with Lyme disease and subsequent return to the world of freeskiing as a healthy athlete—something she’s never totally experienced before.

Her film—titled LymeLight—is still in the fundraising stage. She’s raising money through a kickstarter campaign to help pay for production costs. It will be available next spring for free, and be a part of a larger campaign VanLaanen plans to take on the road to areas where Lyme disease is most common. To learn more about the LymeLight project, visit her kickstarter homepage, or her hompage.