Yup, my real name is Stephen. I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and have lived with a very severe form of asthma since birth. I’ve lived a lot longer than people thought I would.
My walking story, and the concept for this blog, begins in Sept of 2004, when my asthma finally impacted my ability to continue working full time. At the ripe old age of 49, I was forced to retire from my 29 year career as a Respiratory Therapist…seems I was spending more time as a patient in the hospital, than as an employee in one.
Despite being constantly short of breath and out of shape, I didn’t want to lay around the house feeling sorry for myself waiting for this disease to kill me. I decided instead, to put into practice what I had preached to my chronic lung patients over the years. And that is ….. Exercise , Exercise…Exercise ! As counter intuitive as it sounds, you need to exercise even when you’re short of breath.
With that in mind, I put together a self-directed physical re-conditioning (pulmonary rehabilitation) program that would hopefully, help me manage the viscous dyspnea cycle , maintain what little lung function I had left, shed some of the weight I had gained from years of prednisone use, and perhaps, just perhaps….beat the odds, by living longer and happier than science and medicine says I’m supposed to.
At first, I tried swimming and running, but they left me instantly winded. By default, I took up good old fashioned walking. Little did I know what a profound effect this activity would have on my life. When I first started walking for fitness I was in such bad shape I could barely go a few blocks without suffocating; and on many days I was too short of breath to walk at all. Despite the concerns and doubts of some, I kept pushing myself to go a little farther each time.
A year later on 7-31-2005, I walked 13.1 miles in just over 3 hours, successfully completing my first half marathon. Then just a little over a year after that on 10-1-2006 , I did what others said was not possible….. I walked 26.2 miles and finished the Portland Marathon ! Since then, I’ve gone on to finish a dozen other races, including the Rome marathon in Italy(twice), and on April 20th 2009, I walked my way into the record books by becoming the first person with documented severe lung disease , ever to finish the Boston marathon! In 2010 and 2011, I finished my 2nd and 3rd consecutive Boston marathons,finishing each race appx 12 minutes faster than the previous.
Though I may look totally healthy on the outside, on a good day my lung function is only about a 1/3 of normal. I’m pretty much short of breath all the time. Walking a marathon is much harder than it looks, and can be dangerous for someone with lungs like mine, but I’m living proof that it can be done. In fact, Ive done it 8 times now. My doctors still can’t figure out how the heck I can physically do it, or for that matter, why the heck Id want to in the first place. I do it because it makes me feel good about myself. My lungs might be trashed, but my spirit isn’t. I push on with life despite my breathlessness, though I admit it’s hard to do at times.
If you have asthma, please consider becoming a volunteer study subject for SARP