Elisa Fuliano, Full Steam Ahead

June 29, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi @avakitzi
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Elisa Fuliano had a tough year in 2022. 

Sure, she qualified for her first CrossFit Games by coming in fifth at Strength in Depth in London, England, but she headed there eight months after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

The average age of onset of RA is 45, but this autoimmune and inflammatory disease is usually more present in adults over 50. Rheumatoid arthritis is in the class of autoimmune diseases; your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. This causes inflammation and painful swelling in the affected parts of the body, usually the joints.

This disease is degenerative. You cannot cure arthritis; you can only manage it. With the diagnosis relatively new, as she qualified for her first CrossFit games last season, Fuliano was still figuring out how to manage it best. She wasn’t setting herself up for success.

  • Fuliano remembers: “I was working full time and only training once a day in the evening after a stressful day at work with people everywhere. I was very stressed, but it was impossible not to be stressed.”

Returning from Madison, where her goal was just to make it through, and heading into her 2023 season Fuliano knew that she had to take care of herself better to get the most competitive years out of her body. She started by taking a leave from her job, which allowed her to become a full-time athlete for the first time.

  • Fuliano reflects on the changes: “I started doing double sessions of training morning and evening. And I had so much more time to sleep, which really helped. I had not been sleeping a lot, and that really made me stressed.” 
  • “Being a full-time athlete allowed me to be less stressed and have more time to recover and sleep. And yeah, for the moment, it is working. And I want to see how far I can get as a full-time athlete.”

Fuliano is incredibly excited to see how increasing her training volume during this year translates to her Games performance, which we all know is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • “There were kinds of workouts that I suffered in from the Games, a high volume of workouts, like four workouts in a day, day after day—especially the Capitol. I really suffered from that kind of thing,” she said. 
  • “But since I’m doing double sessions now, I can bear much more volume in workouts. I tested it at Wodapalooza last January, and I competed both individual and team. So for the competition, I was feeling good, and my body was not hurting. So it’s good proof that I can support this kind of volume now.”

As Fuliano hopes to have brought more consistent management to her arthritis, something deeper drives her. Her family is the most important thing to her, and living in Turin, Italy, she deeply misses her family who live in Genoa, where she grew up.

  • Fuliano: “I miss my family. You know an athlete’s life is made of sacrifices, and one of them is not being able to see family so often. And this is a thing I really miss. It’s often after a competition when I see them, so I am free from the training and CrossFit to fully enjoy them.”

One family member that Fuliano misses more than anything is her father, who she lost when she was 14. It was an especially tough time to lose a parent.

  • “When you’re little, you don’t remember it very well, and when you grow up, you can cope better with it. But when you’re 14, you start to live the real you. The period of life that you get to know more. He was also my favorite parent – we always played with each other and played sports together. He was the fun one.”

Fuliano was very angry when her dad died, and that emotion reappeared when she was diagnosed with RA. Through many doctor visits, people had a tough time diagnosing her until the light switch went off one day, and Fuliano remembered that her father had arthritis. Almost immediately, she got her diagnosis.

Emotionally, Fuliano remembers:

  • “They did blood work, and it was clear I had arthritis. It’s been one of the only moments when I’ve been angry with my dad because I inherited this from him.”

Fuliano’s stubbornness to not give up on CrossFit, intersecting with her first year as a full-time athlete, has led to contentment and calmness that is somewhat new to her, and seeing that her sacrifices have paid off. 

She is constantly thankful to her doctors for finding a therapy that manages her pain and allows her to continue training and competing. She has also built a supportive team around her to help her to continue to keep her stress low and, in so doing, minimize her flare-ups.

  • Fuliano: “I have an amazing coach. I mean, he really knows me to the core. Every time we go to a competition, we study a strategy for each workout, and every time, he can find the perfect strategy for me. And I’m really grateful to him because I have him every day in the gym.”
  • “Apart from my coach, the owner of the gym is my physiotherapist. And so whenever I have a little pain somewhere, I always have the right support. Then I have my nutritionist, who does my diet through the years and for competitions. So he always writes me a protocol to follow during competition to keep me on track.” 

It may have taken a year for Fuliano to realize that she didn’t have to battle against arthritis alone, and by surrounding herself with the right people, her goal to extend her CrossFit career is much more palpable.

  • “It’s a great team, and I feel so supported. Everyone has their role and works perfectly. Me as an athlete, coach, as a coach, and everyone in their area does their part to try to reach success.”

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