I love to challenge myself, to push the limits of my capabilities. I love to hear stories from other people who do the same. In recent times I’ve heard many people talk about pushing their bodies to the limit. “I’ve done an Ironman”, “I’ve done an ultra – marathon”, “I’ve climbed My Everest”.

They’re all great stories and those experiences last a lifetime, they also build resilience and toughen the mind. It is said these events are examples of the body operating in extreme environments and maybe it is. But part of me feels like saying, could you do this with 30% lung function? Could you do anything with a severe lung disease? When people talk about operating in extreme environments, the question I’d ask is – how extreme is an environment which you can remove yourself from at any time?

Operating in an extreme environment is part of life for respiratory patients. The ability to breathe is not taken for granted, it’s cherished every hour of every day. The battle for any quality of life can be physically and emotionally devastating. We cannot choose to remove ourselves from this environment, it’s our norm!

Of course, I can say this knowing there will be someone reading this thinking – you’re probably an ex-smoker, you get what you deserve! I’ve grown tired of this attitude, does this mean anyone who makes a poor lifestyle choice deserves a chronic disease?

The growing interest in studying how the human body performs in extreme environments is interesting. The Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments is a website which has many different types of studies about what happens to the human body under certain extreme conditions. Again, are these really extreme environments?

  • Settings that possess extraordinary physical, psychological, and interpersonal demands that require significant human adaption for survival and performance!
  • Example environments include space, high-altitudes, Polar regions, deserts, underground, open ocean and underwater. Furthermore, a number of extreme activities occur in these environments including a variety of extreme sports!

It’s fair to say extreme environments are relative to your everyday life and what is your norm! What may be extreme for some is a walk in the park for others. If you want to talk to me about the challenge of a Marathon or Ironman event, then first allow me to remove 2/3’s of your lungs or restrict your capacity to breathe by 70%. Welcome to my world!

                                                                                  Severe COPD Symptoms


The point of this article is not to undervalue anyone’s achievement, it’s to value the achievements of those who just fight to breathe. It’s to encourage researchers in this space to look outside the box. If we are really interested in how the human body performs under extreme conditions, then study severe respiratory patients. Maybe I’m just a desperate patient clutching at straws, but is there anything more extreme than losing your ability to breathe?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), my chosen disease is tragically underfunded! It is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.A and number 150th on the NIH funding list! Studying COPD patients who constantly live in extreme environments may just help find a cure as well as answer questions about how the body performs under these extreme conditions.

I’ll happily put my hand up to be a lab rat if it means we can move closer to curing this disease. In the meantime, I’ll keep operating in my extreme environment. I’ll keep competing in marathons, ironman and anything else which comes my way. I’ll keep fundraising for research dollars.

Next time you’re competing in your extreme environment, imagine how you’d be going if you couldn’t breathe.Think you’ve experienced racing in extreme environments? Come and race me in mine, if you’re game! Come and race me for charity!



  1. COPD operating in extreme environments!
    I loved this article Russell. Really thought it encompassed what it is like to suffer with copd. I spoke with you last year via Skype regarding the Keto diet. Your drive to bring copd out into the open is commendable. No way are you a desperate patient clutching at straws. I think your super passionate and positive about finding a cure for this horrific disease. I would certainly be a lab rat for future generations to prosper and be given a chance to live what should be a great life. I was reading an article on the British Lung Foundation site a while ago. I was disheartened to read that over some 30 years of its founding only 30 million had been invested in research. A mere drop in the ocean to what we spend on other chronic diseases and arms. Please don’t quote me on these figures but I am not far out. We need a massive change in consciousness to brighten the future for copd sufferers.

    1. Hi Martin,
      Thanks for the kind and sobering words. We have to put this disease on the map so people can see our plight. Hope you’re well.

  2. I can truly relate to you but on a much smaller scale. I was diagnosed with COPD more than ten years ago. I am now 73. After my diagnosis I purchased barbells and a bench. I established a weekly workout routine. Today I work out three times a week I do five excercises. Each excercise routine began with a warm-up of military pushups and situps. At first I could barely do 10 of either. Now I do 25 pushups and 50 situps. After my warmup I do five upper body excercises with the weights. If I cannot do at least eight repetitions I reduce the weight in five pound increments. I have three groups of excercises for my weekly workout. I work my chest, back, lower and upper arms, wrists. The most important muscle is my heart. When I am able to do 15 repititions three times I increase the weight by five pounds. My O2 saturation is only 54%. My workouts have helped me lead a normal life. My excercising has allowed me to do some remarkable things. Last year I challenged my 14 year old grand nephew, who is in excellent physical shape, to race him in the 50 yd. dash. I beat him by 3 feet.
    Set a goal. Make it your number One weekly priority. Work at it mentally and physically. Start light. Talk to your doctor before beginning any such workout. Stay safe my friends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *