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October 19, 2022 5 min read
Today, we ask the question, what is beauty? We had the privilege to meet Cindy Todd (and we think you should too). As a multi-facet veteran, artist, nature-lover, wife, and athlete, Cindy Todd is an adventurer who appreciates the beauty of the world through her backpacking trips & adventures. Although there is no right/wrong answer to this question, we're here to help you discover what is beauty for you by showcasing Cindy's experience. You can find her backpacking around the world to raise awareness to Behcet's Disease.
Read on to get inspired to know more about Cindy's adventures, understand what is Behcet's Disease and how she has used it to strengthen her, and ultimately see what limitless looks like... and OF COURSE, it looks like Cindy!
ZS: How did you get into backpacking? Why do you backpack?
CT: I went on a geology trip (week-long camping) with my college. I hadn't camped since I was a child. That experience made me think about how great it would be to wake up in the backcountry all by myself. Coupled with the need to prove to myself that Behcet's Disease doesn't have to define me, I started backpacking. I started small, going somewhere overnight and then worked up to a week-long. At first, since I was still very sick, it took me 2 months to pack for a weekend trip, as the stress and fatigue would get to me. But now, I'm on a great medication regime, and I can just throw some things in the car and head out. But the real key is that I wanted to prove to myself that just because I had this diagnosis and just because I was currently sick, that didn't mean that I would always feel sick or that was how I had to define myself, as the "poor woman with an autoimmune disease". I pictured myself housebound, sitting all day because I was so sick. So, I set out to make my life opposite of that image. And it was very difficult at first, again because I was so sick, but I remember hiking up a trail with my backpack on, and feeling like I was going to just lie down and die. But I kept telling myself, "just get to that next boulder" and so on. When I reached my destination, I was so proud of myself. And it chipped away at that image I had of myself. Many backpacking trips later, I am in the best shape of my life! And I was very athletic as a kid and young adult. But again, I'm in the best shape of my life! And I no longer see myself sitting in a chair day in and day out. Now, I know I can't control everything, but if that were to happen, at least I'd know that I did absolutely everything in my power to avoid that, to be in shape and to be healthy.
ZS: What is Behcet's Disease?
CT: Behcet's Disease is a rare autoimmune inflammatory disease. It can effect any or all of your bodily systems (i.e. neurological, respiratory, autonomic, etc.). Personally, I have had symptoms that affect many systems, from loss of feeling in my limbs, to body temperature disruptions, to chronic pleurisy, etc. It presents differently with everyone with this disease.
ZS: Why is it important to raise awareness for Behcet's Disease? How can the community help?
CT: It's important to raise awareness for Behcet's Disease, as since it's a rare disease, there isn't as much research for treatments done. The treatments that are available, research was done on other autoimmune diseases (i.e. Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc.). Fortunately, there's huge crossovers with many autoimmune diseases. But another reason for more research, is that autoimmune diseases in general are on the rise.
ZS: In 2021, you were chosen as Vasculitis Foundation's Patient Hero, what did that mean to you?
CT: It meant a lot to me to be chosen as a Vasculitis Foundation Patient Hero, as my efforts were recognized. I've been backpacking for awareness since 2017. I've also visited and was interviewed by a couple pharmaceutical companies regarding my experience with the disease along with specific medications. I just hope that my efforts can help someone, even in a tiny way. I hope in the future, people have an easier time with this disease and much better treatments available.
I went through some dark years, but ended up coming out of it a much better and more patient person. Ironically, I'm happier than before I had the disease. I appreciate the beauty in life at a much deeper level. And I want that for everyone, but especially for those that suffer chronic diseases.
ZS: Can you please explain the importance of wearing the right apparel for your backpacking.
CT: I suffer from autonomic dysfunction due to Behcet's Disease. This often means that my temperature fluctuates and heat/cold can bother me more than most people. So, wearing the right apparel is crucial. In the summer, I wear UPF clothing and in the winter, I wear layers, but usually thin layers so that I can stay warm but not overheat either. It's the same thing everyone experiences when exercising in the elements, but at a higher level. I train 6 days a week, so I have gotten good at knowing my needs.
ZS: Where is your favorite place you've backpacked?
CT: I love backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains (California). I've backpacked on the eastern side and the western side. Both sides are great, just a little different. The western side tends to have more people utilizing the trails. But I love waking up to the sounds of birds. Opening my tent to see the mountains glowing orange from the sunrise and seeing the mountain and trees reflected in alpine lakes. It makes me feel a part of something and like I'm witnessing something so special.
But it was also amazing hiking in the jungle in Hong Kong, the Alps in Austria, the Carpathians in Romania, etc. I look for the beauty in every place. And in nature, it's not hard to find beauty. I love the deserts, jungles, mountains, etc.
ZS: What are your Zensah must-have products, and why/how do they help you through your adventures?
CT: I love Zensah compression sleeves for ankles, knees, wrists, etc. As an athlete who trains 6 days a week, it can be hard on my joints. Compression Sleeves reduces pain and swelling. I also like Zensah's Neck Gaiters. I wear Neck Gaiters when I train, as I want to protect myself, as I come across people who are trail runners, hikers etc. who are breathing hard/fast. They provide some protection for me and for others on the trail. Zensah produces high-quality goods and I'm sure all of their products are great.
ZS: Zensah’s motto is #withoutlimitz meaning we want you to feel limitless in everything you do. We have a campaign called “Limitless Looks Like This” because limitlessness can look different for every person. Limitless might look like finding balance, reaching goals, acing the race you have coming up, or manifesting your future. What does limitless look like for you?
CT: For me, it's laughing hysterically with my wife. It's waking up in the backcountry to such picture perfect beauty that it brings tears to my eyes. It's visiting foreign countries, seeing that people are all the same (we all want love, to be heard, to be seen). It's looking outside and watching the birds line up to use the bird bath. It's all those things and more for me. Life is so incredibly beautiful and at the same time, so very painful. Both makes you want to cry. But finding happiness takes work. It takes work to look for that beauty. It takes work to find small ways to make your life happier. Happiness doesn't necessarily come, and certainly not easily. You have to want it and work for it.
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