Huafrid Billimoria is a 25-year-old triathlete in India. He has just become the first person diagnosed with cervical dystonia in the country to complete a 42km marathon. In 2019 he was also the first Indian diagnosed with dystonia to swim 2.5km. In 2020 he earned the title of the first Indian diagnosed with dystonia to finish swimming from sunk rock to the Gateway of India, and another 10km in the sea.
Dystonia is a neurological condition which is primarily characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. That said, the symptoms are wide-ranging. Some are mild, some are severe, and they ebb and flow. All patients have a varying degree of disability.
The severe symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.
Huafrid, who is now 25, first received his diagnosis of cervical dystonia at just 16. Growing up he faced severe anxiety, ADHD, and learning disabilities.
Despite facing these challenges and the involuntary muscle movements, he has always pushed himself in sports that required endurance. His muscle contractions caused him to stumble, fall, and even have trouble walking. When he’s in a flare, it’s as though he has no control of his body. It’s also hard for him to physically recover.
Nonetheless, he started swimming, running, and doing martial arts such as capoeira. It helped him cope with both his dystonia and his anxiety.
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Even though COVID delayed his new marathon record, he says it “stopped everything but my drive.”
He ran a full half marathon from inside of his house. Even though it took twice as long, he kept going. It was hard on his mental health, but he was too determined to give up.
A day before the start of the marathon he also faced a stomach bug. Even this did not stop him.
After a full year of training, he accomplished what he set out to do.
Huafrid also speaks to how influential his coach, Brinston Miranda, was in motivating him. Brinston is an international athlete himself and also founded BEFIT Fitness Academy. He explains that he made a customized program for Huafrid to help him build muscle with his condition.
Huafrid says that all he needed was a few words of encouragement and his coach and his team around him.
Zoran Patheria, one of Huafrid’s teammates, also articulates how impressed he was by the feat. He explains that he’s seen his teammate go in and out of hospitals, wearing neck braces, and even on bedrest for a period time, and nonetheless he keeps persevering. He’s looking forward doing an Ironman with Huafrid next.
As for Huafrid himself, his latest victory has kept him motivated both physically and mentally. He explains that he shares his story to spread awareness of the condition and to advocate for inclusivity for those with dystonia and other conditions in Indian society.
You can read more about Huafrid and his story here.