Leeds Rhinos star Staveley hits the road for charity challenge

A bone-chilling diagnosis did not stop Aimee Staveley becoming a multiple trophy winner with Leeds Rhinos and now she is going the extra mile - or 60 - for fellow sufferers.
Aimee Staveley starred in Leeds Rhinos' Women's Super League Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers. Picture by Steve Riding.Aimee Staveley starred in Leeds Rhinos' Women's Super League Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers. Picture by Steve Riding.
Aimee Staveley starred in Leeds Rhinos' Women's Super League Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers. Picture by Steve Riding.

Staveley is aiming to run 100 kilometres, around 62 miles, this month to raise money for Versus Arthritis, a charity supporting the 10 million people in the UK who have the condition which causes pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint or joints.

The 30-year-old second-rower was diagnosed eight years ago and is using her running task as extra training. She is now past half way to her target and is running between six and 11 kilometres per day.

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“The main reason for doing it was to raise money for charity,” she explained. “During lockdown I have been furloughed from my job at Specsavers and have a bit of time on my hands [so] I thought I could maybe do a challenge.

Aimee Staveley on the charge for Rhinos agianst Wakefield Trinity. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Aimee Staveley on the charge for Rhinos agianst Wakefield Trinity. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Aimee Staveley on the charge for Rhinos agianst Wakefield Trinity. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

“I wanted to set myself something that is really hard to do so I feel proud when I have done it. I thought the best charity to do it for would be the one that is close to me.”

Staveley has had to overcome more obstacles than most rugby players. She recalled: “Before I was diagnosed I was playing for Stanningley and I was barely managing to walk, let alone play.

“I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and when my doctor told me what it was, I thought the worst because all you really imagine is older people with it who can barely walk and have disfigured joints from it.

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“I thought I am going to be like this forever, I was in a lot of pain and there will be nothing they can do. I was lucky, though and they started me on some drugs near enough on the day of the diagnosis that massively helped me.

Rhinos women celebrate their Grand Final triumph. Picture by (Isabel Pearce SWpix.comRhinos women celebrate their Grand Final triumph. Picture by (Isabel Pearce SWpix.com
Rhinos women celebrate their Grand Final triumph. Picture by (Isabel Pearce SWpix.com

“On a day to day basis I can sometimes wake up in a lot of pain I never understood when people said ‘it’s cold or it’s damp and I can feel it in my bones’, but you really can when you have arthritis as it really gets to your joints.

“The main impact is the tiredness because it’s constant and nothing ever takes the fatigue away. No matter what type of arthritis you have, the fatigue is always there, which can take over your life at times. For me, who works full time and then trains or has a game, the next day I can feel like not getting out of bed.”

Despite that, Staveley was a treble-winner with Bradford Bulls in 2017, played in back-to-back Challenge Cups final victories for Rhinos and was a member of last year’s Grand Final-winning side.

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She admitted: “Sometimes it’s hard having arthritis as a rugby player and I think ‘I’m getting too old for this’, or ‘this is a bit too much with a full-time job’, but you keep going because you love it.

“It really helps me both physically and mentally – the stronger you are the better, I think. It is amazing I am able to play rugby and have played in big games.

“When we are lucky enough to get to finals I look around and think ‘soak it up Aimee’ as you never know when you are going to get this again. My message to people who have been recently diagnosed with arthritis or are struggling is to keep yourself active as much as you can, whether it’s sport or getting out for walks.

“I always say do what you can as it’s not only benefitting you physically, but mentally. It can be so isolating sometimes to have the disease and you need to keep healthy and your mind healthy; you will be positive because of it and there are going to be treatments out there. There will be good days and bad days, but as long as you can ride out the bad days, the good days will be very good.”

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Versus Arthritis have welcomed Staveley's efforts. Chief executive Dr Liam O’Toole said: “Arthritis is the biggest cause of persistent pain in the UK, yet most people dismiss it as 'an old person’s disease' or 'a bit of wear and tear'.

"The hostile environment this creates is forcing people with arthritis to either put up or shut up. It means they don’t get the care and support they need and leaves millions isolated.

“I'm delighted Aimee has joined us in defying arthritis and taking on this amazing 100k run for us. We’re truly grateful that the money she is raising will go towards supporting close to 10 million opeople with the condition and to build a world where no one faces the pain and isolation of arthritis."

To sponsor Staveley, log on to justgiving.com/fundraising/aimee-staveley.

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