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!
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!