Q&A: Pam Relph

Photo by Tom Miles

When I was seven I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. At first it was mainly in my wrist but it later spread to my knee and ankle too. Despite my condition, I’ve always been very sporty and especially loved running.

I never saw it as anything that was going to hold me back. I couldn’t do handstands like my friends when I was little, but that was about it. I ran cross-country for my school, which was great.

I joined the Army in my late teens. Part of our training was to run a mile-and-a-half once every six weeks to gauge our fitness. We also did the same distance in full combat gear wearing boots, a pack, and carrying a rifle. Running-wise, it was one of the toughest things I’d ever done.

It was a huge disappointment when I had to leave the Army when some of my joints fused. But thanks to my sister, Monica, who was a GB rower, I became involved with the GB Paralympic rowing team. We won gold at London 2012. Everything happens for a reason.

When I think about running I believe that’s what humans are built to do. It’s in our genes, unlike rowing, which is a much more man-made sport because it’s very technical.

I love running so much I even asked to do more running in my regular training for rowing. But I will also go for a run as my way to relax. I love to head off and explore, or even better, run somewhere and get a little bit lost so it turns into an adventure.

I like to do my running early in the morning. It sets me up for the day. I enjoy running in early autumn best. When it gets really cold, my arthritic joints become painful, which isn’t much fun.

I like to run with my boyfriend Rob, who I met at the 2012 Paralympics. He was in the US rowing team but is now a triathlete and lives in Salt Lake City. We have been on some great runs together where he lives.

I must look like such a weirdo some days when I’m running along the river at Henley where we’re based. I have a big smile on my face as the running is often the best part, even though we do up to 35km in a week in training sessions.

I know one day I might not be able to do what I want because of my condition. That’s why going for a swim, bike ride or run is always something I will want to do, even if I’m in pain. Once I get the endorphins flowing, I always feel better.

My favourite...

Treat: I have some protein after training to help my body recover. It’s usually a body shake or what seems like my bodyweight in Greek yoghurt.

Running tunes: Something that has a perfect tempo for running. I like the American group Paramore which really puts a spring in my step. 

Hero: I remember screaming at the TV when Kelly Holmes won her second gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004. She was inspirational.


Pam is an ambassador for Arthritis Research UK, which funds research into the cause, treatment and cure for arthritis. Visit their website to join Team A.