Zola was deprived of sleep, untill she discovered she had RLS, which can be effectively treated.
Zola Budd-Pieterse – Former Olympic track and field competitor broke the world record in the women’s 5,000 metres twice, was twice the women’s winner at the World Cross Country Championships and was diagnosed with RLS in 1996.
“As an athlete you face new challenges all the time, but I was at quite a loss about what to do when I began to experience quite uncomfortable sensations in my legs, giving me the sudden urge to move them, often at times when I wanted to relax or even sleep. At that time, I had never even heard of Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS, and since I was not sure how to describe the feelings, I just did not mention it to anyone.
It took me many years of suffering in silence until I came across a pamphlet in my doctor’s surgery that seemed to describe my symptoms perfectly. I decided to talk to my doctor who obviously was aware of this condition too and soon, after a thorough examination, I was diagnosed. Getting a correct diagnosis is so important as I now know that RLS is often confounded with other medical conditions. I also learned that RLS is a common and treatable condition. I only wish I had known about it sooner.
Zola Budd-Pieterse – Former Olympic track and field competitor and RLS patient
Zola Budd was born on 26 May 1966 in Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa. At the age of 17, Zola broke the women’s 5000m world record and went on to break it again shortly after. Zola took the world by storm not only because of her unique talent, but also for unusually running her way to victory, bare foot. Throughout Zola’s career she won a great number of competitions, including twice being named the women’s winner of the World Cross Country Championships and gained the title of the second fastest woman in the world over 3,000m in 1992 when competing in the Olympics. Zola has since retired to Myrtle Beach, USA and is married to Mike and has three children.
Sue, John, Silvana and Hans are all people living with RLS. They share their stories below and help to provide insight into what it is like to live with RLS.
My first experience of RLS
“I started getting these strange itching feelings inside my legs about four years ago. I would start to experience it late in the evening, often whilst I would be watching TV. It used to last one or two hours and I would have to get up and walk about to get any kind of relief from the feeling.” Silvana, Italy
“I was 19 the first time I noticed the symptoms – I went to the cinema with my boyfriend and I couldn’t sit still as my legs were driving me mad, I just wanted to move them all the time. I vividly remember having to force them to keep still throughout the film. After that, I would experience it on and off until my thirties by which time I was married and had two children. And then it started to come, just a couple of times each week, so it didn’t really affect my life too much. As it became worse, I would try to work out what was causing it, but there was nothing really specific that I could pinpoint.” Sue, UK
My social life
“Before receiving treatment, transatlantic flights would be almost unbearable because of the constant need to move my legs. Before going on a long-haul flight, I would worry about how I would cope with these burning, tingling sensations in my legs. I would always make sure I got a seat on the aisle and would wander up and down the plane for most of the flight. I knew that as soon as I settled back into my seat the torture would begin again.” Hans, Germany
Never getting a good night’s sleep
“The frequency of my symptoms increased until it became difficult to get a good night’s sleep. As it progressed, it began to interfere with my everyday life, from sleeping, to travelling and even dinner with friends.” Silvana, Italy
“I’ve had times where I’ve walked about in my house virtually half the night because I could not keep my legs still while in bed, practically falling asleep standing up. I have spent many a time like this.” John, UK
“I went on the internet and found some information about Restless Legs Syndrome and then consulted a physician in London. He was very helpful and sympathetic and for the first time in forty years, I felt as though I wanted to burst into tears because somebody actually understood what I was feeling and had no doubt that I was truly suffering from this condition.” Sue, UK
“When I was finally diagnosed, I found it so reassuring to hear that I wasn’t the only one with these strange sensations. Up until then, I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing was an actual condition called RLS.” Silvana, Italy
The impact on my relationship
“Often I’d go to bed with my husband and just as I started to drift off to sleep my legs would start bothering me and moving constantly, like something was prodding me and making me jump. So my husband was often forced to go into the other bedroom to try and get some sleep, while I would get up and walk around. Sometimes it would ease but sometimes it didn’t help at all – as soon as I got back in bed it would start again.” Sue, UK
“There was a period when I was really struggling with RLS and my wife used to sit at the dinner table eating dinner, whilst I would be next to her standing up to eat. That’s not the way to have dinner. Socialising events that required sitting still for long periods were also a problem: going to a restaurant, concert or theatre, were all out of the question.” John, UK
The difficulty of maintaining a job
“As the symptoms increased over the years, I didn’t know how to handle these strange sensations in my legs that were stopping me from sleeping. Eventually, in my fifties, it got to the stage where I had to give my job up because I was so tired from lack of sleep, I just couldn’t keep going as I was.” Sue, UK
*Due to RLS
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