In just four years, Paul McGarrigle, Jr. has run in four marathons and 26 half marathons. He has slogged through mud runs and survived obstacle courses. McGarrigle was an athlete in high school, but his evolution as a runner began much later, in 2006. That was when he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
McGarrigle was caring for his mother, Carol, who was dying of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She also had severe psoriasis. He was trying to concentrate on his mother’s battle and not on himself, but he couldn’t help noticing his own increasing joint pain.
“I thought at first it was due to work,” said McGarrigle, 45, who is a meat cutter and meat manager. “So did my doctors. We thought it was just the natural aches and pains of the job or because of the cold environment I work in.”
The McGarrigle family has been struck hard by related diseases: his mother’s Hodgkins lymphoma...his sister Dawn’s multiple sclerosis. His disease was the last to appear. In January 2006, McGarrigle went to a rheumatologist who made the psoriatic arthritis diagnosis. “I probably had psoriasis when I was younger,” McGarrigle said. “But it was mild. It came and went. It was never diagnosed.”
McGarrigle’s condition worsened over the next six years. He maintained his job, but it was a trial. He’d wake up in pain with stiff red hands and “sausage” fingers stuck in crooked positions. His wife, Shawn, had to massage his hands and fingers to get them to open.
He’d come home and sink into a couch. He couldn’t enjoy many of the “dad things” he liked to do with Shawn and their three children. By 2012, the man who had coached his two sons in wrestling and football and taken the family fishing weighed 350 pounds (on a 5’11” frame). “It was a miserable lifestyle,” he said.
“I wasn’t going to go out this way.”
“By 2012, I knew I had to stop this downward spiral,” McGarrigle said. “I was going to try to overcome this disease and what it was doing to me. I vowed to lose the weight I had gained due to inactivity from my psoriatic arthritis.”
McGarrigle’s comeback started when his rheumatologist put him on Humira (adalimumab). Humira began to help him after about four months. At the same time, he began to make better choices nutritionally. “I eat a lot better,” he said. “It’s just common sense: smaller portions, fewer fast foods and processed foods. And I eat frequent small meals.”
He embarked on an active lifestyle by going to the gym and “doing what I could do.” This included a “small” amount of cardio and weight training.
Then in March 2013, a friend challenged him to get out of the gym and try a 5K. McGarrigle accepted the challenge. He enjoyed being outside; making new friends; the positive, supportive atmosphere; and, of course, the race itself. “I got the bug,” he said. “Since that day, I’ve lost 100 pounds.
“When the weight starts coming off, you notice it,” he said. “Other people notice it. There’s less stress on your joints and less pain. You feel better physically and psychologically.”
The road to NPF
McGarrigle has never been interested in setting records. He just wants to finish each race. He also figured early on that “If I’m going to do this, I might as well do this for a charity.” Among other causes, McGarrigle has raised more than $20,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House and Homes for Our Troops, as well as for research into multiple sclerosis, autism and gynecologic cancers.
McGarrigle finished a Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C., in 2012. In the charities tent after the race, he met a woman whose son had psoriatic arthritis, and she told him about the National Psoriasis Foundation. By 2013, “I was running for my own cause finally.” In October 2015, McGarrigle ran with Team NPF in the Chicago marathon and raised more than $1,000.
McGarrigle is still taking Humira and still working full time. He has good days and bad days, but he’s no longer hiding after a physically painful shift at work. Shawn no longer has to work on his fingers every morning. In fact, one of the best moments in McGarrigle’s journey came not when he crossed a finish line but when he was sitting at home with Shawn. “She said, ‘Your hands and fingers look totally different. They look so good.’
“Years ago, I decided I wanted to go for quality of life since I couldn’t be sure of the quantity,” McGarrigle said. “Now I want to keep running until I no longer can.”
Driving discovery, creating community
For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.