Rheumatoid Arthritis Doesn’t Rule My Life

Josette Tkacik began dancing before she could even walk. Later in life, she studied classical ballet with several notable companies, including The prestigious Joffrey Ballet School in New York and The Metropolitan Ballet of St. Louis, where she was a company dancer. In 2010, a friend suggested she try her first Zumba class. “I remember laughing and being exhausted at the same time. But there was something more….this was a release! This was magic!” Hooked, Josette attended every Zumba class she could find.

In 2011, Josette excitedly became a Zumba Instructor and with the mentorship and support of amazing instructors, she infused her experiences of dancing, training, traveling and her passion for life into class. Zumba Fitness felt like home to Josette.

Within one month of becoming licensed as a Zumba instructor, Josette was suddenly stricken with incredible pain and swelling in her legs. She woke up one morning realizing she couldn’t walk—both knees were the size of grapefruits. The pain was unbearable.

After hours in the ER, Josette went to several specialists who eventually diagnosed her with advanced rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative and painful disease that has no cure and may cause full disability at a rapid pace.  There was no explanation as to why she was suddenly struck and doctors told her she’d be fully disabled within a couple years if she did nothing. They offered a list of toxic pharmaceuticals and steroids to help slow the progress, but she declined to take them. Her entire world had been turned upside-down.

She spent months in spiritual darkness, seeking answers for the pain she was experiencing. She could not complete simple tasks like walking or brushing her teeth, and the swelling had quickly moved to basically every joint in her body. Even though the disease prevented her from carrying and playing with him, she had one light at the end of the dark tunnel, and that was her son. 

“Everything I identified with as a person was gone,” Josette recalled. “I was no longer a dancer, a woman, a mom – I could not even stand on my own. No one, not any doctor or friend, could help me, but I knew that I was going to be a better mom for my son.“ Because of her love of her son, Josette sought to build her own path.

To the bewilderment of her family, she accepted a job teaching Zumba fitness for the City of Santa Barbara. Though management hadn’t met her in person and had no idea she was barely mobile, Josette was hired based on her dancing background and many recommendations.

“In my first class, there were three students, and I stood in one spot moving my hips.  Slowly I started to be able to move my feet. I don’t know how, and there is no way to fully describe it, but my heart so passionately wanted to move that I think my body followed.”

Tough times followed. Six months into the job, the city of Santa Barbara contacted Josette to let her know they weren’t sure about the Zumba program since she was only pulling in a few participants. They threatened to cancel her class, but she begged them to keep her on the schedule. She was living on borrowed money and her disease kept her in bed for the majority of the week. “Please, just give me 6 more months,“ she begged. And they did. 

Josette started to get better. Her classes started to grow. “I danced, and I shook, and I blocked out negativity. What has happened in the last 3 years is nothing short of a miracle born out of my love for Zumba fitness,” Josette reflected.

By 2013, only two years after she began teaching, her average class size was 100 students. She now makes a successful living teaching Zumba classes full-time to about 200 students every day of the week and is in complete remission from Rheumatoid Arthritis since late 2012.

“I don’t have plans to stop dancing; I spend my time doing whatever I can to inspire others, especially with fellow instructors to share the message of Zumba love–because it really does change lives. I am living proof.”