Woodstock woman overcame back pain en route to Ironman

WOODSTOCK – The pain started in her back, moved to her hip, shot down her leg.

Sue Bartoszewski tried ignoring it. Admitting its presence was admitting the threat it posed toward stopping Bartoszewski short of her goal. In 2007, 80 pounds overweight, she’d watched her son complete an Ironman triathlon.

An Ironman: 2.4 miles in the water, 112 miles on bike, then bring it home with 26.2 miles – a full marathon – on foot. Start at 7 a.m. Cross the finish line by midnight, and you’re an Ironman.

Bartoszewski, 55 at the time, knew instantly that she wanted to be a part of this. She started training – she remembers, at first, having to work up to a full-minute jog on the treadmill. She made it to a 5K, then a “sprint distance” triathlon – 0.47 miles swimming, 12 miles cycling and 3.1 miles running.

Then, the pain.

She ignored it until she couldn’t.

“It kept increasing in intensity,” said Bartoszewski, of Woodstock. “I couldn’t walk through Walmart with my grandson. I had to stop and sit. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I am not ready for this.’ ”

At its worst, the pain in Bartoszewski’s back was so bad she couldn’t stand up long enough to cut a tomato. Walking around the house became a chore – she’d have to stop and sit halfway between the kitchen and her bedroom.

She started receiving treatment in 2009 from Dr. Terri Dallas-Prunskis, who co-founded the Illinois Pain Institute. In December of that year, an X-ray showed Bartoszewski has facet arthrosis, or degeneration of discs in her back.

She also had pain originating from her sacroiliac (SI) joint, which connects the tailbone to the pelvis. Dallas injected the inflamed areas with a mix of local anesthetic and sometimes steroids and liquid anti-inflammatories.

It was enough to allow Bartoszewski to keep training. She worked her way up to a half marathon. She did an “Olympic distance” triathlon – 0.93 miles swimming, 25 miles by bike, 6.2 miles on foot. She ran a full marathon. She ran a half Ironman. But the pain never completely subsided.

“It’d come back fairly quickly,” she said. “And when it came back, it came back with a vengeance.”

In 2011, a representative from a health care company approached the Centegra pain center about a new machine that performed a treatment called sinergy cooled radiofrequency (RF).

Bartoszewski, a clinical nurse manager at Centegra Hospital – McHenry who worked in the pain center at the time, asked Dallas about the treatment. She researched it and agreed it’d be a good fit.

Bartoszewski had undergone a standard RF treatment in her facets before, but in January 2012, she underwent the cooled RF treatment in her SI joint.

After about a week, Bartoszewski was pain free. Centegra – McHenry later bought the machine.

Dallas has been impressed by the result. Approaching a year since the procedure, Bartoszewski still is without back or hip pain.

“What I’m looking for and what I’m excited about is to see the time period,” Dallas said. “It’s already been a year, and she’s doing well. It will be interesting to see how much longer she’ll get relief from this.”

Bartoszewski, now 60, became an Ironman in September, finishing the grueling race in just under 16 hours – good enough to earn her top honors in her age group, which included six other competitors.

Dallas remembers seeing her not long after. Bartoszewski’s muscles ached.

But her back felt fine.

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