( This page updated 6-10-2018)
My name is Steve, I was born 6 decades ago with wickedly bad asthma. Ive been hospitalized well over 100 times for the disease and was not expected to live past my 40’s.
With limited treatment options, I decided to take a different approach. I began to incorporate exercise in the form of daily fitness walking, into my treatment regime. In doing so, I changed the world narrative on physical fitness and chronic lung disease management. A result of hard work, discipline and sheer determination, I walked 21 foot races, including 9 full marathons with a lung function of less than a third of normal.
My walking story, and the inception of this blog, begins in Sept of 2004, when my asthma got so bad that I was forced to take early retirement from my 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 sick and totally out of shape. Then it dawned on me, would daily exercise help?. People with severe COPD patients are encouraged exercise and attend pulmonary rehab classes, so why not a severe asthmatic? As counter intuitive as it sounds, you need to exercise even when you have a disease that effects your breathing. So that’s what I did.
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 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 affect 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 feeling like I was 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 under 3 hours, successfully completing my first half marathon. Then just a little over a year after that on 10-1-2006, just 2 weeks after an asthma hospitalization and an FEV1 of 36%, I did what others said was not possible….. I completed a 26.2 mile walk 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 asthma 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.
It may sound easier than running, but 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. 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. I push on with life despite my breathlessness, because when you get down to it there are really no other options. You find a way to adapt or you let the disease take over and ruin your life.
Since finishing my last full marathon in the fall of 2014, my asthma taken quite a toll on my body, making it very difficult to train for anymore long distance events. Still, I get out there and walk a minimum 1-2 miles everyday unless I’m sick or in the hospital.
Exercise hasn’t cured my asthma, but it’s certainly made me a stronger person and I believe it’s the main reason I’m still around to write about it.
If you have asthma, please consider becoming a volunteer subject for SARP or some other Asthma research study. It’s so important.