SHERIDAN — Abbey and Andy Fried didn’t know what was wrong.
Their daughter Olivia, age 3 at the time, limped and had a low-grade fever every night, but medical professionals couldn’t pinpoint the origins of her distress for several months.
Eventually, Olivia Fried was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 4, a disease that affects one’s immune system and causes swelling and joint pain.
The next seven years involved numerous obstacles. The arthritis flared up sporadically, sometimes so severely that Olivia Fried needed a wheelchair. She eventually matured out of the disease but not without struggle.
After being unable to walk at times during elementary school, Olivia Fried began running in middle school, where she competed in track, cross-country and a few 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer races.
With juvenile idiopathic arthritis in her rear-view mirror, Olivia Fried will take the next step in distance running this weekend when she competes Saturday in the 18-mile race at the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run.
The past few years haven’t involved as many hurdles for the recent graduate of Sheridan Junior High School, but it took a long time to reach that point.
During the initial stages, it took about five months for medical professionals to determine the diagnosis.
Andy Fried said the uncertainty was the worst part of those challenging months.
“You don’t know what to do or how to respond,” he said.
The symptoms largely were contained for a few years but became more serious in second grade. Olivia Fried had aches and pains, dealt with internal swelling and had tightness in the back of her knees, making it tough to bend her legs. The arthritis also impacted her elbows, ankles, hips and jaw.
For the next three years, flare-ups came every few months. When she didn’t have a flare-up, life was relatively pain-free. However, when the pain did come, Olivia Fried sometimes had to use a wheelchair for multiple weeks.
In fourth and fifth grade, she would often start days in a wheelchair but walk by the end of the day after her joints loosened. The constant changes made it confusing to explain to gawking classmates.
“That was a hard thing for her to navigate with peers,” Abbey Fried said. “… She really didn’t like people looking at her, feeling like she was different.”
Olivia Fried said her friends supported her figuratively and literally. They often told others what she was dealing with, which helped take the pressure off of her. A friend carried Fried on her back out of the second floor of the school during a fire drill.
Olivia Fried said waking up in pain unable to move her legs was tough. However, she knew the difficulties would end one day.
“There’d be times like, ‘This really sucks, I’m in a wheelchair for a week,’ but also it was something I dealt with for a couple years,” Olivia Fried said. “It got to the point where it sucked, but I knew it’d stop.”
Near the end of fifth grade, her flare-ups became less frequent and eventually ceased altogether. There wasn’t a particular day or moment the family realized it was over; that gradually happened over time.
“When you live with it, you just have the instinct that it’s getting better,” Abbey Fried said. “… It’s a good one to have behind us … We haven’t looked back.”
Olivia Fried doesn’t have any lasting symptoms and hasn’t dealt with any setbacks in several years, but she has a higher chance of developing an autoimmune disease in the future.
She headed into middle school with a fresh start and began competing in cross-country and track in sixth grade, taking a liking to distance running and lowering her times along the way.
Olivia Fried also credited her cross-country and track coach Elizabeth Moore with helping her improve and develop a passion toward running.
Andy and Olivia Fried plan to run the race together Saturday. He has run it three times in the past and convinced his daughter to participate this year. They’ve done a few trail runs on portions of the course to gain a better sense of what to expect, but the race this weekend presents a new challenge.
She has never run as far as 18 miles before but seemed comfortable heading into race day. Andy Fried looks forward to finishing the race and sending photographs of Olivia Fried crossing the finish line to the doctors who helped them along the way.
“So they actually see some success stories, instead of always seeing sometimes the heartache,” Andy Fried said. “… I’m excited to see this unfold and just the accomplishment it will be for her.”
Before she starts high school and begins another new phase of life, Olivia Fried will compete in the race that symbolizes a mental bookend to everything she has gone through over the years.
“When I started junior high it was kind of a new chapter without arthritis,” Olivia Fried said. “… I think the trail run is going to be the mark that it’s done for me.”