( This page updated 2-10-2016)
My name is Steve. I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and have lived with a severe and uncontrollable form of asthma since early childhood. Though I may look totally healthy on the outside, I suffer tremendously from the effects of this disease. Currently my lung function is only about 1/4 of normal, which makes breathing difficult almost all the time, even when Im not flaring.
My walking story, and the concept for this blog, begins in Sept of 2004, when my asthma got so bad that it finally impacted my ability to continue working full time. At the ripe old age of 49, I was forced to retire from my 30 year career as a Respiratory Therapist. Yes, Im a Respiratory Therapist (RRT) who just happens to have very severe asthma.
At the time I was depressed, constantly short of breath and out of shape, but I didn’t want to lay around feeling sorry for myself waiting for this disease to slowly kill me. I decided instead, to see if what I had preached to my COPD patients over the years would work on an Asthmatic. And that is ….. Exercise , Exercise…Exercise ! As counter intuitive as it sounds, you need to exercise even when you have a disease that effects your breathing.
With that in mind, I put together a self-directed pulmonary rehab 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 jogging, 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. I even took up racewalking lessons to learn the science of walking and to improve my speed and technique.
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, with an FEV1 of 36% 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.
Walking a marathon is much harder than it looks, especially for someone with lungs like mine, but I’m living proof that with the right attitude and proper training, it can be done. In fact, Ive done it 9 times now. My doctors still can’t figure out how the heck I can physically do it, or for that matter why Id want to in the first place. The answer to that is simple. I do it because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes feel like I can do what a “normal” healthy person can do. My lungs might be trashed, but my spirit isn’t. I push on with life despite my breathlessness, because there are really no other options. You either figure out a way to adapt to your lung disease, or you let the disease take over and ruin what quality of life you still have.
Since finishing my last race back in Oct of 2014, my disease has slowed me down quite a bit. My lung function is so low now, that I can no longer train for marathons, or even half marathons, but I still get out there almost everyday if Im not in the hospital, and walk at least a mile, sometimes more. Im not sure how long my body will allow me to keep this up, but I intend to keep moving in some way or another till Im 6 feet under.
If you have asthma, please consider becoming a volunteer subject for SARP or some other Asthma research study. It’s so important.