If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if I would do a triathlon, I’d have said, “Why, yes. It’s totally on my list!” If you’d have asked me if I would do an Ironman distance triathlon, I’d have said, “What’s an Ironman?” And when you elaborate, I’d have said, “That’s nuts. Who does that?!”
But the voice in the back of my mind would be saying, “Hmmm. Interesting.”
Triathlon has always been at the top of my list, but my asthma symptoms were still a significant factor. For most of my life, I was inhaler dependent, meaning I used my rescue inhaler several times a day. That is NOT considered controlled asthma, but there didn’t seem to be an answer for it.
I remember my first inhaler. I was six years old. At school, I vividly recall taking it into the bathroom with me so that nobody would see me use it. It was cumbersome to use and loud. I still hear the “click-click” sound of the capsule of medication being punctured followed by the high-pitched “whiiiiiiirrr” of the machine as I inhaled the powder into my airways. It sounded like a remote control car. I don’t recall that it helped much, but I was a good girl and took my meds. Often, I ignored my symptoms and pretended they didn’t exist. I had things to do! I’d rush out to recess and play on the monkey bars, jump into a tether ball tournament, play “Charlie’s Angels” which of course included catching the bad guys and throwing them in the dungeon, or play dodge ball in the gym. I had skills, but I couldn’t run; that was the shortest route to a severe asthma attack. I had a heck of an arm for throwing though, and I could catch. I started making a list of skills that seemed to be emerging in order to counter the growing list of activities that caused my symptoms to worsen. In my six-year-old mind, I was sure I could come up with a formula that would fix it.
At age 9, I was so sick that they finally put me on massive doses of prednisone; 80-100mg per day. It helped my breathing, but the side effects are horrific. They vary between patients, but mine included: Severe pain, fatigue, weight gain, water retention, facial swelling, insomnia, excessive perspiration, occasional depression, excessive appetite, confusion, acne, nervousness. (My mom and four siblings might add occassional moodiness to this list but I’d say that’s goofy. I was an angel.) My skin itched constantly and I bruised easily. The difference in my appearance between third and fourth grade is astonishing. I would frequently get up in the middle of the night, wet a hand towel with very cold water, sit on the floor in the bathroom and wrap it around my legs, rocking back-and-forth for hours because the pain was so intense. From then on, and all through adolescence, I took prednisone nearly every day.
I had to find sports and activities that wouldn’t exacerbate my symptoms. I fell in love with cycling and softball. I still had symptoms almost every time I participated but I simply used my rescue inhaler and pushed through. All too often it required excessive amounts of the inhaler (I do not recommend this), but I was stubborn and determined. Still, its debilitating effects were limiting and more often than not, asthma won the battle, rendering me inactive. I made frequent visits to the hospital. When I’m really sick with a particularly severe episode, I can’t walk across a room, or have a simple conversation without being completely winded.
Eventually I arrived at a place in my life where I accepted the disease, knowing that there would be times that it would win, and times when I would prevail. For years my friends and I prayed for healing. But at some point, and I’ll elaborate on this journey another day, I ceased giving energy to obsessing over whether or not God would heal me and resolved to accept whatever came my way and deal with it. He was clear about my request. I decided to leave it alone and move forward, knowing that He had a plan and if my disease was to be a part of that plan, then so be it. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know how to get through a bad episode. I’m an expert! And in the times that I was healthy, I took advantage of it and did as much as I could. I had plenty of fun despite my medical condition.
And then Ironman came to town…
I volunteered. I had a friend participating so I signed up to be a body marker and a finish line catcher. I was both for him and I cannot tell you how much that day impacted me. I was mesmerized. I stayed the entire day, watching for my friend and cheering for other participants. I was all over that course. I had this feeling deep in my soul that was pulling at me. I had no intention of attempting Ironman distance at that time; it still seemed crazy to me and I wasn’t feeling the pull towards that distance. But a sprint triathlon? Absolutely! I knew in my heart that it was time to give it a try.
The first time I ran a mile, it took me 45 minutes to recover. Not my legs; my breathing. I wouldn’t even qualify it as running. I think it was about a 13 minute mile, maybe slower. I used way more inhaler than anyone should use at one time. I called my doctor’s office and informed them that I intended to complete a sprint triathlon the following summer, and I asked if there was anything we could do with my medications in order to more effectively manage my symptoms. They said no. Three months later I received a call from their office. The doctor was concerned about the frequency with which I was ordering more inhalers.
I referenced my call three months prior.
Things began to change…