My 'Triath-Ron' challenge
Ron is living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, but it hasn't stopped him taking on the ultimate triathlon challenge.
When I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) last April, I didn’t think that a year later I’d be writing about completing a ‘Triath-Ron’.
IPF has caused my lungs to scar. They’ve become thick and hard, and this makes it difficult to take oxygen from the air when I breathe. I think the best way to describe it is being constantly short of breath, made even worse by just the slightest effort.
Little things like walking up stairs (just normal walking, not running) leave me completely out of breath.
Nobody knows what causes IPF, there’s no cure, and it will only get worse and worse. Eventually, oxygen is needed 24/7 and the only hope of survival is a lung transplant.
Just a common cold could cause my condition to get worse very quickly, or even kill me. Sadly, around half of people with IPF live no longer than 3 years after being diagnosed.
After I was told the news, I called the BLF's helpline and spoke to the nurses there. They listened to my concerns and answered my questions. They weren’t always the answers I wanted, but I needed to hear them.
I was determined to raise the profile of IPF, and I’ve been lucky enough to talk to MPs about the effect it has on my life in the Houses of Parliament and to share my experiences on the radio. I’m even helping to shape the future of the BLF’s campaigns and research.
But I wanted to do more. I wanted to take on a challenge, to show what can be achieved in the face of a seemingly devastating illness. I wanted to take on a challenge not just for myself, but also to help find a cure.
Claire, my yoga teacher, decided she would join me and together we chose to do a triathlon. I used to take part in triathlons regularly before being diagnosed with IPF so I wanted to show that I could still do it. And I knew I had to do it this year - next year, I might not be able to.
We started by walking the distance of a half-marathon in May. I can’t run any more, but it’s the distance that counts.
Friends from my pulmonary fibrosis support group joined us throughout the day. It was tough. It took us almost 6 hours to complete the 21km (or 13.2 miles), but we stopped a couple of times for yoga and made it in the end.
The walk was a lot harder than I first thought it would be. It made me realise that any small incline had an impact - we all needed to rest at the top to let our lungs recover. The support I got from the support group and staff from Papworth hospital was truly amazing.
Next up in June was an epic swim. Just over 2km at 4:30 in the morning!
I enjoyed the challenge of swimming against the flow. It was dark, cold and very lonely. For much of the way I was swimming on my own, as most people quickly passed me. I expected to be well behind everyone else, but when the results were published I realised I’d done much better than I first thought – finishing 529 out of 539. I was so proud of myself – I'm not going to surrender to IPF!
Taking on RideLondon
Finally, August was the big one – a huge 193km (120 miles) bike ride from London to Surrey and back again.
No matter how much training I got under my belt, hills would always be a problem and cause my oxygen levels to plummet. But everything that goes up must come down, and riding downhill was always a relief.
The big day arrived. As I waited to cross the starting line, I knew that whatever happened, I would be an emotional wreck. As I expected, the hills and inclines were my biggest challenge. My heart rate increased considerably and my oxygen levels dipped to extremely low levels.
Within the first 50 miles I had severe cramp 4 times in both legs and regrettably had to concede that enough was enough. My consultant has since explained that oxygen gets rid of the lactic acid which causes cramps, but I simply couldn't take enough in to beat it.
I was devastated at having to finish early. But despite being upset, I was also very proud. I might not have made the full course, but cycling 50 miles with IPF is a huge achievement.
More determined than ever
The support I received from the team at the British Lung Foundation and those around me has been amazing. It gave me the confidence I needed to take on such an incredible challenge. I'm so glad I can give something back.
So far my triathlon has raised almost £3,000. I know this will make a big difference to the support people like me receive, and will also help fund much-needed research towards new treatments and cures.
Monday 5 October to Sunday 11 October 2015 is IPF Week, and this year we're asking people to show that they care about IPF.
My challenge has shown me just how many people do care, as the number of friends, family and even strangers who have supported me has been unbelievable. Being able to do this triathlon has made me even more determined to do the very best I can on behalf of everyone who can’t.
We can only support people like Ron with your help. Can you make a donation today?