Smoke Stroke COPD- Ironman

My name is Russell Winwood, I was born in 1966 in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve had a good life thus far but have had a few health issues along the way. I decided to take to blogging to share my experiences with other people in the hope that it can help others with similar health issues.

I was diagnosed with asthma when I was young, but managed to have an active childhood playing sports and doing what most kids do. In my late teens I started smoking socially, I’m not sure why as I knew it was bad for me but continued to smoke until my late 30’s.

Christmas Day 2002 I collapsed, too many years of not looking after myself had caught up with me in the form of a stroke. I realised it was time to change my habits. I eventually gave up the cigarettes, cut down drinking alcohol and started eating better. At the time of my stroke I was 88 kg about 20 kg over weight . My son had just started cycling and talked me into taking it up, best thing I ever did. The weight started coming off and I started feeling like a 36 year old should.

A friend of mine suggested I should do a triathlon, I was hesitent because I wasn’t a great swimmer but eventually I agreed. So for the next eight years I competed in varying distances of triathlons from sprint to Half Ironman as well as a couple of ultra marathons.

In 2011 after noticing my training times were getting slower, exercise was getting harder and I was constantly short of breath, I took myself off to the Doctors. Spirometry and lung function tests confirmed I had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), with a FEV 1 <30% of predicted. That basically means my lungs are operating between 22-30% of there predicted capacity. I was told that I would possibly need a double lung transplant within 5 years. Surprisingly the scan showed that there was no major damage to my lungs from smoking. My airways had become very narrow due to years of chest infections, causing a build up of scar tissue.

Being diagnosed with COPD was hard. I felt cheated because I had worked so hard to rebuild my health after having a stroke. The truth is that smoking and poor management of my asthma had come back to haunt me. The damage had already been done years ago and while I had changed my lifestyle, it didn’t change what I was going through now. So where do I go from here! I have a severe lung disease and doctors are telling me I will need a double lung transplant within 5 years.


One thing I had learnt in life was that exercise is good for everyone. So that’s my starting point. Problem was I had no energy and exercise was too much to contemplate. My wife Leanne did some research and discovered a Chinese doctor that had success in making people with chronic disease feel better.

After receiving an ok from my respiratory doctor, I went off to see how Chinese medicine could work for me. During the initial consultation with the Chinese doctor he advised me that he couldn’t do anything for my lungs but he could give me more energy. Armed with this I started on a course of Chinese medicine and over the next 3 months started to see an improvement in my energy levels.

I gradually started back exercising, short slow walks turned into longer faster walks. The more I was out exercising the fitter I was becoming. The fitter I became the less breathless I felt. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t going to trouble Usain Bolt over a 100m sprint. I went back to swimming and cycling as I become stronger. Before long I started having thoughts of actually training for a triathlon.

I went to my respiratory doctor and told him I wanted to enter an Ironman event. He said, your mad and you won’t finish the race. Eventually he agreed there was no harm in trying as long as I followed his guidelines. He gave me some parameters to train by and off I went to prove to my doctor that I could do this.

I trained hard but smart, I put my health first. If I didn’t feel right I wouldn’t train. I took supplements to boost my immune system so I could try and avoid cold and flu’s. My preparation went well, I avoided infections and was able to complete most training sessions.

Race day came around pretty quickly and I can still remember how nervous I was. I had no idea if I was going to finish or even how far into the race I would get. Ironman has a 17-hr cut off, and that was the only certainty. I made it out of the swim in one piece and not feeling too bad. I jumped on the bike and headed off on the 180k leg of the race.

By the 150k mark of the cycling leg, I was starting to feel fatigued and my pace had slowed considerably. I kept thinking I just have to finish this part of the race and worry about the run when I get to it. I managed to finish the bike section of the race and then spent a few minutes convincing myself that the next leg – a 42k run was going to be easy. It wasn’t!

For over 6 hours I walked fast, run a little but mainly I just walked, thinking to myself I wish this race would end. Eventually the race did end and for me that was 16 hours and 50 minutes after I started. I had beaten the cut off time and completed my first Ironman. I know many people will read this and think, no way!

Port end

Completing this race was a significant point in my journey with COPD as it taught me a lot about myself and just what is possible when you put your mind to it. It was also the reason I started this blog. It’s my hope that sharing my experiences will help others with respiratory disease become more active.

It’s not about competing in races, it’s about becoming active so you can achieve a better quality of life!








45 responses to “Smoke Stroke COPD- Ironman

  1. Just passed two people running up this highway in Carrum/Edithvale wearing DonateLife colours, along with a few pink hat supporters. Very proud to see you out there, hope you finish well. Jodi

      1. I have a question for you.
        I am travelling overseas in the next few weeks. I have bronchiectasis and have approx 25% lung capacity. I require oxygen when flying. To date, I have not been able to secure travel insurance for my pre-existing condition. Can you help?
        Good luck with your efforts in the marathon.

  2. Hi Russell, thanks for reaching out. Our stories are quite similar it seems! More and more I’m hearing of how people came to triathlon and the challenges they have since overcome. But it’s the love of the sport that keeps us going!

  3. Hi Russell, thanks for reaching out. It seems are stories are quite similar! More and more I’m hearing of the challenges traithletes have overcome, and it’s the love of the sport that keeps them going. Congrats on Melbourne IM! I’ll be doing my first full up in Cairns, I would love to meet up for a chat, one lung disease survivor to another 😉

  4. Sounds like a plan, be great to exchange thoughts. I have a guest blogger lined up to tell her very inspiring story in the next few weeks, would you be interested in doing a guest blog ?

  5. i have COPD. Diagnosed 7 yrs ago showing early signs of emphysema. I have been in the nursing field since I was 16… I just turned 44. I too crashed after not taking care of myself. I wore muself out and kept pushing forward and smoking away! I didn’t think it would ever happen to me but I got double pneumonia. CO 2 went above 105 and I was touching the hand of death! I was rushed to hospital straight to ICC floor where they got me hooked up to some machines which I assume I coded as they all sounded off they ventilated me stablized me and 3 1/2 days later they took me off the vent… 6 hrs after almost went into cardiac arrest due to anxiety and I was re ventilated for another 3 1/2 and they told my husband if I didn’t come off that time I would had a trachea done… But I did and I held on and did a lot of praying and that started 2-14-14 and I was released from the hospital 3-6-14. I took 36 rehab visits and thought I was doing good… Just on one liter of O2 and I can take it off in day time when I feel like I can I wear a bi-pap at night with 02 and that’s permanent. I’m still not exactly where I want to be yet but better and stronger. So I was surprised to know I was being referred to Vanderbilt to be evaluated for a double lung trasnplant. Lots of tests etc and then listed on a waiting list. All I can say to you is hold onto faith believe no matter what the Lord has his hands on you eat lots of veggies and fruit especially kale drink 8 8 oz glasses of water a day cut caffeine and sweets along with carbohydrates get your vaccines practice good hand washing and stay clear of lots of people who may be sick. Walk do weight baring exercises to stay strong. Keep ovine and if you feel bad don’t hesitate to get to the dr!! God bless and good luck

    1. I am so happy for you. Having a transplant will kick that COPD right out of your life. I’m too old but wish the best to anyone who can receive a healthy set of lungs

  6. Great post!
    I know it is tough dealing with asthma because i have seen how bad it can be. So i created a website specifically to help the asthma community.
    Check out! I hope it helps


  7. hi I am in the third stage of COPD but for the last three days I have had a wonderful time about two wonderful granddaughters Charlie who is 21 months old and aria who is six months so you guys you can’t give up you’ve got to go go go and never stop the more you exercise the better you take care of yourself your grandchildren will let you see as stay strong and the will to see them through their young lives.

  8. Hi Russ I am too at Stage IV although at 69 years old I have a bit of a lead on you. Your blog is quite inspirational, one I would really like to emulate. I just about manage 1 km on the flat each morning and an occasional exercise bike ride (yesterday I managed 4 kms in 24 minutes – so I am not in your league, but I am going to try and do better. I intend to follow your blog and see how you go.

  9. Good afternoon/evening! I am working on an article for (29 million readres monthly!) about adjusting to life with COPD. I’d love to include your tips and insights for our readers, as well as a bit of your personal story. I was hoping we could email or even speak in the next few days. I am on the East Coast of the US, so about 12 hours behind you, I think. Email me if you are interested – [email protected]

  10. Why do you get a sqeeky voice ? I’m doing everything I’m told smoke free for 7 months and been on predizone and antibiotics almost every month. Tired all the time no energy depressed gained 40 pounds.

    1. Hi Lissa,
      Some people do notice a change in their voice and weight gain when taking Prednisone, I personally haven’t experienced it. Is your diagnosis COPD and have you seen a respiratory specialist ?

  11. thank you you truly are a hero all you do is fantastic i joind the COPD group on facebook but i was fed up of hearing how sick they all are and asking each other ,do you take this or this was so depressing they are so negative but they think they are positive .what we need is a group the really is positive and instead of talking about medicines and what the doctor said and how they go to hospital again,i have had this for 15 years and never been to hospital i stay at home and get well again i do exercice a lot and walk the dog and do all my own cleaning i never give in and never will.

  12. Russell, to help spread awareness to patients recently diagnosed with COPD as well as to help people that are unaware of COPD see how life altering the disease is you should Share Your Story: They will turn your responses into a blog and share it with their readers on their Share Your Story Segment. Your story is so touching and the amount of hard work you put into your daily life in order to be a happy and healthy is simply inspiring to me and I know their readers will be even more inspired!

  13. Hello Russell,
    Congratualation for your perfommance, but I want to ask ,are you involve in pulmonary rehab ?
    Dr. Rowshan
    General Secretary- International Primary Care Respiratory Group(IPCRG) Bangladesh

    1. Hi DR. Rowshan
      Thank you for your kind words.I’m not involved in pulmonary rehab at this time. I developed an exercise program with my personal trainer to suit my needs.


  14. Hello Russ
    I too was diagnosed at 36 and 11 years later have an an FEV1 of about 40. I went through pulmonary rehab years ago, and continue to walk at least 4 days a week for 45 minutes at 3.5 mph on the treadmill. However I am considering trying to start to run. Can you give me any pointers on how best to get started? Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated !

    1. Hi Karin,

      Great to see you’re so active ! First thing I’d say about starting to run is check with your doctor to make sure it’s ok. Running consistently will take time and it’s important to build slowly. Increase your walking pace but stay within your safe limits, monitor oxygen levels and heart rate, as you become stronger add some short running intervals in.
      Intervals can start at 10 seconds running, 50 seconds recovery and then build on that. Make sure you keep hydrated and if you start to feel unwell, slow down or stop.

      Make sure you stretch and don’t over do it. Session have to be enjoyable otherwise you will lose interest. Let me know how you go !


      1. Thanks for the encouragement and advice! Not to mention the inspiration. I find I feel so much better when I work out, and the number of exacerbations go way down. I would do just about anything to avoid prednisone ! I am 100% sure my pulmonogist would have a cow at the thought of my running, but your idea of 02 and heart rate monitoring might ease his mind abit. What devices do you use? Do you use them while actually running or immediately after ?
        Thanks again

        1. There’s no doubt that the fitter you are the less exacerbations you have and the better you can control your breathing. I use a Garmin 920 for monitoring heart rate and exercise stats. Unfortunately I haven’t found a reliable pulse oxygen meter that is accurate while running. I do believe there will be some released in 2016 that sound promising. Until then you need to stop and measure your oxygen levels. If you haven’t already you will eventually know the signs of your sats dropping. Make sure you listen to your body as it will tell you when your over exerting.

  15. So glad found this blog it’s so positive . Diagnosed earlier this year spirometry 39% fev1 with respiratory failure type 2. Still walking whenever I can lung tests due in Feb . Hoping for improvement . Inspired now to carry on but lack of energy sometimes and sleepiness big issue . Thankyou

  16. Russ, Smoked a pack and a half a day. Almost dead in 2015 at 67 with total respiratory failure. I read an article about where you said, (Paraphrasing) “Doctors prepare COPD patients for Death, not for Living.” I thought, “If that Aussie can do it, so can I. Not running any Marathons yet, but playing Harmonica professionally 3 nights a week, and working out 3-4 days a week. Not only treadmill/bicycle, but also upper body strengthening exercises. Making the most of 33 percent Lung Capacity. Jon

  17. Hi Russ, great blog and exceptional achievements by you with the running, swimming.

    As for the posters above re ‘lung trnsplants’ I think the need for those will be put aside as Stem Cell therapies take off. They are starting trials now. Early trials are not perfect but showing promise.

    Ron (UK)

  18. Found out I have COPD last week, I am 52 and been a smoker since I was 16. I was pretty distraught about this diagnosis until I found your site! You pulled me out of the downward spiral I was in for a few days and gave me hope. As of right now I haven’t have a smoke in 1.5 days and ordered a Peloton bike for my office to start getting back in shape.

    Thank you!

  19. Hi Russell
    I’m Vlado from Croatia and I’m 55.I have never smoke ,no asthma,allergie, air pollution , no alpha 1.All my life i played sports and always had have lot of mucus.
    In the year 1995 during regulary visiting and monitoring of pulmonologist i was even 2 months in hospital but after 7 months of fever i was diagnosed with “Bronchiectasies inflamm,very severe emphysema,insuffiencia ventilatoria gravis” and my Fev1 was only 14,7% (0,60) at age 30
    .Since then my Fev1 is around 30% (1,30) .I tried to be active as much i can and i still walk 5km (90min) every day,im on keto and i have lost 15 kg.I do regulary airway clearence (Bronchiectasie).My dr said that im not qualified for O2 (after 6 min walk test my SpO2 was 78 HR 169).I try to find personal trainer to improve my muscles and to be more fit.When i go for walk my SpO2 drop to 88%.What else can i do to improve my breathing ? I have terrible SOB (its invisible but i feel it) all the time and inhalers dosent work for me.Thank you for any replay and regards from Croatia Vlado

    1. Hi Vlado, its wonderful you’re trying to be active. I’m not a doctor but am supprised you don’t qualify for o2. I would suggest talking to another doctor. It’s not advisable to be exercising without o2 when your saturations drop like they do.

  20. Hi Russ,

    Thanks so much for putting this together.

    I had an iscahemic stroke last December at the age of 38. I am extremely lucky in that I have no physical impairments just anxiety issues which is extremely strange given I was never anxious about anything before.

    Since then I have taken up running and lost nearly 20kg and have been looking into what goals are now possible for me. This blog has helped me so much as it proves that anything is possible.

    Thank you so much.

  21. Alkhamdulilah, saat ini saya tidak ada gangguan tersebut, jaga kesehatan dengan pola hidup sehat, karena kesehatan mahal harganya, termasuk di era Covid-19 ini

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