Wanna know a secret? Believe it or not, there was a time about 15 years ago when I began this whole fitness and walking thing, that I actually thought it was cool having really bad asthma. Sounds crazy I know, but at the time there very few people (that Im aware of) who had super bad lung disease and yet were also training to do marathons.
Hey, with 200 million other asthmatics out there its hard to stand out in the crowd, so I reinvented myself as an endurance athlete. I started doing what others weren’t, or couldn’t, or were scared to. Im talking about exercise! I guess needed to prove to the world (and to myself), that my disease didn’t define me and that even people with severe lung disease could do some pretty amazing physical stuff if they truly wanted to. In any case, I developed somewhat of an ego.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing glamorous at all about having a debilitating lung condition that affects every aspect of your life the way asthma does, I hate struggling to breath as much as the next person. But, because shortness of breath has always been a part of my life, I figured why not embrace and show off my somewhat unusual ability to physically exert myself despite my breathlessness.
The asthmatic community in general can be pretty competitive. Get a large group of asthmatics together and you’ll soon find out who’s the sickest, who’s had the most flares, hospitalizations and treatments, who’s come the closest to death, the most intubations… (uh that would be me), etc etc. While there are always a few exaggerators and sometimes fakes out there, I think most people who suffer from legit lung disease crave a little sympathy from time to time, and deservingly so. Being constantly sick and always working hard to breath in and out can really make you feel lonely. For me though, it was always about pushing fitness boundaries and keeping my status intact as the most severe asthmatic-athlete on the planet. And with dozens of ICU admissions under my belt, no one could touch me. There were even times back then that I would dread doing PFTs for fear that my lung function might have actually improved. Sounds ridiculous I know, but in my mind it would be horrible to be reduced to just ordinary severe asthmatic status. Then I wouldn’t be unique.
For me, the ability to challenge myself physically, despite my lungs, made me feel kinda special. As grueling and self-torturing it was to push myself hard to train for those races, it also gave me a big rush. I got high from it. Every literal milestone I reached during my marathon walking hay day made my ego that much bigger. As my confidence grew I did races all over the world, made tons of friends and even achieved some notoriety. The adulation I received from both fans and medical professionals alike, made all the hard work and risks worth it.
Well that was then, this is now. Age has a funny way of creeping up on you, especially when you have serious health problems. Suddenly in my mid 60s and suffering every conceivable side effect that 6 decades of this disease can throw at me, being a severe asthmatic or an athlete isn’t much fun anymore, nor exciting. Now, Im just an old dude with really messed up lungs who could care less about being an asthma super star. I just to live a no-frills, ordinary, easy to breath life and share my story with others.
Nah, Im just messing with you. I never once for a moment thought it was cool to have asthma, especially severe asthma. This is the kind of delusional crap that my brain spits out while sleep deprived on high dose steroids or spending days on end in the ICU strapped to a bipap machine. I actually conceived this blog post while confined to hospital bed a couple months ago and didn’t really intend on posting it. Then I thought what the heck. Im sure there are other chronic lungers out there, that have at one time or another considered themselves special because of their bravery in the face of this disease.
Hey, almost had you going, right? Seriously though, I’m proud of my physical fitness achievements and happy to see others with breathing problems follow my lead. But the fact is, I wouldn’t wish this disease on anyone for all the fame or fitness in the world. Just make my breathing problems go away and Ill gladly fade into the crowd.