When Sick Is Normal
One year post diagnosis and start of treatment:
The tipping point came as I was tucking my 3-year-old daughter into bed one night. She looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, when are you going to be sick no more?” I walked back downstairs completely devastated because I couldn’t tell her the truth… Never. My wife was sitting there trying to figure out what she would do because her triathlon training partner was pregnant and taking a year off. Totally without thinking I blurted out that I would train with her. I had no energy to do it. I had nothing but desperation. To my surprise she took me up on the offer. I guess you could say she called my bluff. That’s when I got started taking my life back.
That first triathlon with my wife was a sprint and I only had 12 weeks to train. To go from never swimming to 500 meters, from not having run in 15 years to 3 miles and from not having biked since middle school to 12 miles.
The Run: My first training run was one quarter mile loop around the park. Wheezing and gasping for air, I went out too fast and crawled back to the house in extreme pain. Over time my wife had to teach me how to slow down and just do what I could do.
The Swim: I faced my greatest challenge in the pool because my lungs were in bad shape from all the infections. I could learn the mechanics of swimming, but I had little control over having asthma attacks in the lake.
The Bike: I started out riding a mountain bike on a 3-mile loop with my wife pulling our daughter in a trailer behind her bike. I was very humiliated to be dragging behind, red faced, lungs burning, and gasping to breathe.
In those 12 weeks of training I spent 3 weeks with bronchitis, 3 weeks with a sprained ankle and all 12 weeks in pain. I figured if I had endured this long being sick, I could endure the pain of training. I thought, “If I’m going to be in pain, I might as well be the one in control of it.”
Ultimately I found my MyBetter. Running with my wife and daughter on her bike. Biking with my daughter in tow. Swimming laps at the pool with my family. Life began to look better.
I felt horrible after I made it through my first race. I showed up exhausted and fatigued for the race; which is nothing I could control. My body decided to be fatigued that day. But, I finished and crossed the finish line side-by-side with my wife. That was a great high! In that first year I also found my great low. Two months after my first race I attempted my second triathlon, only to be pulled out of the lake because of an asthma attack. Humiliated, depressed and angry, I had to decide if I would take this as a message to quit and not push my body or learn and become better. Ultimately I made the choice to continue to find my MyBetter.
Things started to click with me. I would never reclaim who I was, but I could redefine who I was going to be. I could function after 34+ years of being chronically sick. I could do more than just get through each day. My body wasn’t better. Emotionally I was better. My will to fight was alive! I knew I would never be normal, but I could function more than just hiding and hoping I didn’t get sick.
As I began to learn about triathlons and apply those principles in my day-to-day life, I began to have a tool to combat my body. I got into triathlons trying to feel better and found I was better. For those with chronic illness, it takes the same amount of energy and focus to train for a triathlon as it does to do simple day-to-day tasks, like the dishes. Every action we take is a struggle and a physical toll. But, eventually I learned that if I put an hour into exercise, I got 2 more good hours for my day before I crashed. When you are constantly reaching for more energy, that’s a great return on your investment.
Since then I have gone on to complete several more triathlons and 2 half Ironman events. Nothing has been easy. I had an asthma attack on a swim and was pulled out of the water by the rescue team. I had another asthma attack in a subsequent race, but this time I was prepared for it. I quickly backstroked to a kayak, hit my inhaler, waited a couple minutes and soldiered on. Training with a chronic illness is a carefully architectured plan. It sometimes resembles a delicate balancing act because my body does not heal right, lacks energy and needs extra care. It’s not been easy, but the benefits to my family and my life expectancy make it worth it.
Five years after my first triathlon and under the excellent care of Dr. Joann Lin at McKinney Allergy & Asthma Center–my lung function is above normal. I no longer have regular asthma attacks, don’t need the inhalers as much and don’t wheeze unless I am extremely ill. My incidents of infections are way, way down. To achieve this improvement I have done more than just exercise. I have embraced the triathlon way of proper eating, sleeping, recovery, stress reduction and more. I have also learned by educating myself on my illness and its adverse effects to my body.