Sarah: Hi Jeroen, thanks for sharing your inspirational story with us all at My Lymph. Tell us how your lymphedema started.
Jeroen: I was born with primary lymphedema of the lower limbs. After being born, my parents got the news I would never be able to walk and that I’d probably end up in a wheelchair. Luckily they were exaggerating and I’ve always been able to walk. As a kid, I spent lots of time in the hospital due to the infections I had in my left leg.
Sarah: Have you always been interested in fitness?
Jeroen: Not necessarily. As a kid, I always looked up to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, JCVD… So I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I always thought it was impossible to compete in fitness competitions because of my LE. Until one day, I saw a picture I took [of myself] on vacation and said, “No, this is not what I want to be.”
Sarah: When did your fitness journey start?
Jeroen: It was about 10 years ago. It started out as just trying to lose some weight. One thing led to another and I went 4 days a week instead of 3, then 5 and eventually 6. After a while, I started looking into everything fitness and discovered bodybuilding. Getting big and strong… It’s a hobby that got out of hand! After a few years, I decided I wanted to try for contests.
Sarah: Body Building is a huge commitment, how has this intense fitness program impacted your life and lymphedema?
Jeroen: I have to say my legs got better since I started working out. I’ve been able to maintain them in relatively good condition. I think I can speak for most LE patients when I say that the condition has a big mental effect. Since I’ve been working out, I have to say my body image got a lot better. Mentally bodybuilding can be hard but knowing how benefits the condition is a huge help. If I stop working out, I notice my leg is stiffer due to the swelling. It’s more painful with tension.
Aside from lymphedema, it’s just a nice feeling that the hard work you put in shows. It has taught me patience, setting goals and how to deal with setbacks.
Sarah: What is a ‘difficult day’ for you?
Jeroen: Basically all summer. I can’t really deal with the warm temperatures. The moment temperature rises, I have a tough time managing my legs.
Sarah: Whats your biggest challenge with LE and how do you manage this?
Jeroen: That it’s progressing. It used to only affect my left leg, but my most recent contrast scan showed my right leg is affected, as well as my abdomen and in between my legs… I’m managing through the support of my girlfriend, she’s amazing with this. And I’m trying to mainly focus on training and keeping my body in control.
Sarah: What are some of your favourite workouts to do to strengthen your legs and have you ever had to adapt anything to cater for your LE?
Jeroen: I love going hard on legs. I’ve tried to gain strength through squats mostly, plus leg presses and extensions. I guess you can say I stick to basic old-school heavy leg workouts. I didn’t have to adapt as far as I know off. Some days are more difficult but I imagine that’s not just for me! Our gym is pretty warm and moist in the summer and that does affect my LE but good aftercare is key.
Sarah: What is your daily routine to manage your LE?
Jeroen: Compression stockings, after work and training cool it down under the shower, bandaging and recently my girlfriend started lymph taping.
Sarah: What about your diet? You must follow a pretty strict eating plan with bodybuilding and I imagine this would have an effect on your lymphedema too?
Jeroen: Since I started competitions, I was on a carb-cycling diet. After my last competition (2017) I have been searching to find something else and most recently I’m on a ketogenic diet. I can’t say I noticed anything different on the carb-cycling diet but being Keto has a positive effect.
Sarah: What leg exercises would you recommend for Lymphedema patients and why?
Jeroen: I don’t think you should be avoiding exercises as long as you control them. I’m not saying people should just bang out reps with heavy weights, but if you control your exercises, have a good ROM, I think all exercises are possible.
In terms of motivating yourself to start and maintain a good fitness program- You have to do it for yourself. It really benefits your condition. If you want to do competition or even just workout but were held back because of your condition, just go for it. Don’t fear the reactions of people… I noticed people in the gym respect the fact you try, no matter what you look like. And if you put your mind to it, you can book some serious results.
Sarah: How do you define ‘success’?
Jeroen: Being able to do what you want to do. In the long run, I’d say being LE free, but since that’s not an option for the near future, just living day to day and being happy, that’s more than enough.