My Story

Glacier National Park

If you are reading this, then you wanted to know more about me or rather, my story. Everybody has one. I'm sharing mine because as a Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach I find myself coming in direct contact with people who share a commonality:

 They are in “a fight”. 

I have an auto-immune disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis. You don't have to have this disease or any auto-immune disease to relate to my story. Chances are, if you don't have an auto-immune or are not in a fight, you know someone that is.  

I have shared snippets before about my relentless pursuit of wellness. Funny thing about writing is you have to decide how deep you want to go. That can be a little scary and causes me to feel  vulnerable. I have learned that when I take risks, put myself in uncomfortable situations and invest, I GROW.   Life is precious and it’s short.  If there is something I can share that  can help you in any way, the vulnerable feeling is worth it.  

In my late teens I felt like many teens do. I felt my life was uncertain, scary, and out of control. I smiled kindly on the outside but had a raging storm on the inside. 

People who get sick with auto-immune, many times, know exactly the moment or period of time the straw breaks the camels back.   I know I did. Certain conditions just right to set off a raging fire. 

I was run down both physically and mentally. I was losing weight and actually felt myself shrinking. I would push harder when I was sore or tired because I always thought that’s what I was supposed to do. “Winners never quit” was the phrase that played in my head. “Do’s not good enough”.  I’m not talking about the cheerleader “you’ve got this” talk. I’m talking the trash talk. You ever hear harsh, degrading, bullying self talk?  You know, the mental self-beating we have all done if you have lived long enough. Ever talk to yourself that way? 

I was on self destruct mode but didn’t know it. I remember the bottoms of my feet were so swollen and felt bruised so badly that I could barely walk. I pushed myself harder.

Until one morning, I couldn’t push anymore, and I couldn’t get up. 


I army crawled to the phone to call my dad for help. Every joint in my body a raging firestorm. 

Long story short, it took many weeks to get a diagnoses. My body didn’t respond well to anti-inflammatories. And the storm inside my body and mind raged on. The Doctor said I had Rhuematoid Arthritis “as bad as a person can get it.”

I did not blame God and still don’t. I mean would you make your children sick so they would ask you for help? I didn’t listen when my body was screaming all of the warnings it could. No, this was no “character building lesson”, (which I also don’t believe God does.) Sidebar: Just using logic here...if you love your kid, do you hurt them to “build character”? No, you hope they will listen to you the first 100 times you tell them to not run out in the street without looking both ways. 

I moved in with my parents. I hit my lowest point when they had to feed me (and do pretty much everything for me) for several weeks. Can you imagine how they must have felt? This was humiliating  and  humbling for me. I can’t really recall how long they had to do those things but it felt like an eternity for me and I’m sure for them.  They never judged me. I worried they would be mad at me for getting a disease. How disappointing I must be to them. Can you imagine?! They just loved me. My whole family JUST LOVED ME. 

I guess I got mad enough. I was determined to fight. And really, it has been the fight. 

I read everything I could about RA, nutrition, the human body, (I had been in college loved anatomy and physiology). I read my textbooks over and over and anything else I could get my hands on. 

Sidebar:  At one point, the only body part I could exercise without pain was my abdominals.I used what I could, exercised the part of me that could. I still like working the abdominals. 

I persisted and actually had to re-learn how to walk. I would watch people walk and think, “one day I’ll be able to walk at that pace.”  I re-enrolled to go back to school. I moved so slow that I would get to school thirty minutes to an hour early so I could walk to class and get there on time. Yep, ego of a 20 year old girl right out the window. Again I had to drop out of school because during labs I would get whatever bacteria we would look at through the microscope. My immune system was beat up.

  I moved in with one of my sisters. She painfully watched me go into flare ups. Still, nobody judging me but me. 

I worked with different doctors (some good, some not so good), holistic practitioners, Certified Personal Trainers, and Physical Therapists. The trainer and therapist I sought out on my own. Back then the school of thought was, if it hurts don’t do it and frankly that didn’t make sense to me. 

I applied what “felt right”. I applied what I was peaceful with and what I knew in my gut. Through the years I have learned there is no straight line to victory. 

Health/Wellness and Fitness has been a big part of my life most of my life. None of it came easy and I’m grateful I enjoy learning and I am not adverse to hard work and dedication. 

So here I am some 36 years later with a wonderful husband and four sons. I stayed home to raise the boys. You know, the kids I thought I couldn’t have. 

The past six going on seven years now I have been a student year round. I absolutely love learning and have discovered for myself that learning is like the onion analogy. 

“When you peel an onion it has layers. You peel one layer to find another layer and so on. Learning is the same way. It has layers. The more you peel the more layers there are to peel”.  We are kind of like that, too. 

I am in the best shape of my life minus some joint damage to hands, wrists and elbows. The joint damage was because of tough choices I made. I wanted my children to be born with no medications in my body and I wanted to nurse them with no medications in my body. I also went rogue a few times as my nature is. You know, that little rebel inside you? 

I train my body regularly and feel alive, vibrant and thankful that I can. I eat clean. Simply put, I don’t put garbage in my body, only real food. And I thank God every single day. 

Now, I pay it forward. I do what I do to help as many people as I can. I help them overcome, make real life changes, and have the greatest quality of life they can believe to have in body and mind. 

I have learned so much and am grateful to share what I know as I continue to study, learn, and apply. 

Feel free to contact me anytime. I’d love to hear your story. 

Love and Peace. 

Denise Graef