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 continue to be a social smoker until I was 36.

Christmas Day 2002 I collapsed , too many years of not looking after myself had caught up with me in the form of a stroke. Time to change my habits , I gave up the cigarettes ,cut down drinking alcohol and  started eating better, at the time of my stroke I was 88 kg about 15 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, and after a little hesitation because I wasn’t a great swimmer 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.

new york marathon 1

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 at some stage in the future.  Surprisingly the scan showed that there was no 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.


In May 2012, six months after diagnosis I completed my first Full Ironman event, hopefully my blogs will give some insight on the benefits exercising has had in combating  COPD and respiratory disease in general.

34 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

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