August 1st, 2017
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Muscling His Way to the Top
Name: Radoslaw "Roy" Kaczmarek
Hometown: Wroclaw, Poland
Don't try telling Radoslaw Kaczmarek that he can't do something. From challenging conventional wisdom about fitness regimes for people with hemophilia to battling the Polish Ministry for Health, this biotechnology graduate has spent most of his life proving people wrong.
Born in Wroclaw, Poland, in 1986, Kaczmarek has always had an independent streak. He recalls that from the age of 6 he would hurtle around the schoolyard to prove to his friends that he was as strong, or stronger, than they were. "I did many things I shouldn't do, and after that often wound up in bed with a joint bleed," he says, before adding: "But I was satisfied enough by proving I was right."
His refusal to accept any limitations imposed by his hemophilia cost him dearly.
In the early 1990s, Poland trailed many parts of the world in the availability of modern hemophilia treatments. "We had very small amounts of factor VIII concentrates," says Kaczmarek, "and we certainly didn't have spare factor at home." The time that passed between an injury and hospital treatment led to significant joint damage. He developed arthropathy in both knees and his left elbow, and by the time he was 9 his doctors told him he had the joints of a 70-year-old.
Then, when he was 13, he started to do something he credits with transforming his life—and, needless to say, something that many healthcare professionals vehemently maintain is, for someone with hemophilia, a very bad thing to do: he took up weight training.
Inspired by his lifelong hero, Rocky Balboa, and a few magazine articles, Kaczmarek reasoned that weight training could help him strengthen his joints and build muscle—a controversial viewpoint even today. The results, he says, speak for themselves.
When he started he found it hard to even fully extend his legs. With persistence, and in conjunction with a low-carbohydrate diet, he was able to increase the circumference of his thighs by an amazing 11 centimeters (4.3 inches) in 10 months, and he was squatting with 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of weights (his record is 80 kilograms, or 176 pounds). He was also experiencing greater joint mobility, better general fitness and far less pain. His joints have improved to the point that, today, he is able to run in 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) races—a feat that would have been unthinkable for him a few years ago.
Kaczmarek also says the weight training profoundly changed his attitude: "It made me more cautious, because if I screwed anything up it would mean no more progress. It also taught me to be more persistent, to be patient in order to get a desired outcome."
At the heart of Kaczmarek's training regime was a passion for information and scrupulous attention to detail. He would catalog the results of every dietary change and new weight-lifting technique, filling dozens of textbooks with theories and numbers. It is hardly surprising, then, that he settled upon a career in the sciences.
In part because of his hemophilia, he developed a passion for biology at school. He went on to study biotechnology at the University of Wroclaw, and got his bachelor's degree in 2008. In preparation for a career in the fast-growing biotech sector, he is now researching his master's thesis at the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, a part of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His current preoccupation is research into a cure for malaria, but his dream, after getting a doctorate, is to work on a factor VIII particle that provides people with hemophilia enhanced benefits over today's treatments.
In between hours of weight training and a stellar academic career, Kaczmarek has also found time for another passion: improving the lives of others with hemophilia. Inspired by earlier generations in Poland who survived the condition despite desperately difficult circumstances, he recognizes a need to contribute to the Polish hemophilia community.
Working with the Polish Hemophilia Society he was active in an Internet and media campaign that pushed the Polish Ministry of Health to alleviate severe shortages in the supply of factor VIII concentrate. Following an interview with Kaczmarek on national TV and the role he played in an intensive letter-writing effort, the Polish government changed the way in which it bids for the treatment and resolved a critical problem that had plagued the country for years. He has also recently been accepted into the international Step Up Reach Out youth leadership program, which equips young men with hemophilia to become leaders in their local communities.
One thing is clear: when Kaczmarek sets his mind to doing something, whether lifting heavy weights, organizing a campaign against a government ministry or finding the next big breakthrough in biotechnology, you shouldn't bet against him. He sums up his approach to life—and his advice to anyone with hemophilia—with a quote from Henry Ford:
"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right."