The true Olympic ethos has it that ‘it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.’ This is also true of my family and friends who have stepped up to fundraise for my illness, cystic fibrosis (CF)*.
Perhaps prompted by my new openness via this blog, many family and friends have utilised their health and fitness to fundraise for the UK CF Trust, and I suppose, indirectly help me.
My parents, brothers, close family and friends in Southampton host a well-supported annual Christmas card fundraiser. My wife Katie has run two consecutive London 10K’s; my brother Chris and his wife Lisa have punished themselves running a couple marathons. Others have completed triathlons and the Great South Run and another dear friend is going to “run like mad” in the Great North Run this autumn.
You may remember from my ‘Show must go on’ blog last year that my good friend, Julian Archer, crazily cycled his bike from France to England, stopping off at shops on the way to ice his knees with bags of frozen peas, before joining me and my Phantoms hockey touring team in a charity hockey game.
More recently at the start of the Olympic fortnight, fellow hockey player and chum, Ben Sharpe, along with seven other “Mad Reservoir Dogs” entered the Adidas 24 hour Thunder Run – a continuous 24 hour relay run during which most if not all of them will have run a marathon.
I was unable to physically join Ben and his fellow runners for the actual race so I decided to prove my actual existence by emailing them a letter of encouragement prior to the race. This is something I have tended to do for the majority of guys that are kind enough to run for CF.
I wanted to thank them personally for running this in aid of CF, a condition that some of them would have known little about, and offer my congratulations on the great amount of money they had raised.
I explained that CF is a brutal illness which needs constant medication and care. That the average life expectancy is low but improving all the time (currently 41 years old which is the same age as me!).
I hopefully gave them some extra perspective by stating that many CF sufferers cannot walk till the end of their road or will struggle up a flight of stairs. I told them to cherish their health as it’s the greatest gift anyone can have and they should be proud to make it count.
I offered them the solace, as I do with all those who physically torture themselves in my name, that as hard as it gets – when they are struggling and ‘hitting the wall’ during their run – that they should think of me and remember that their lungs do work and they are blessed.
I’ve since been told by Ben’s brother, Richard, that one of the Reservoir Dogs team ran the race with my letter in his pocket. Another spoke unprompted that in the middle of the night while running the ‘graveyard shift’, when the physicality of the race was particularly onerous, that he was driven on by my words of encouragement.
This level of commitment and activity drew comparisons with the recent London Olympic Games, which I had the fortune to attend; visiting the Olympic Park twice to watch hockey and to Wimbledon three times for tennis. I also took my son Felix to watch the men’s bike race wiz past in Putney.
Seeing these supremely fit and healthy athletes in action and maximising their potential is fantastic but I find it rather thought-provoking as someone who never had good enough health to ever follow similar aspirations. I envy their ability to run like gazelles and the lung capacity they have to extend themselves. I imagine that few of them are ever likely to know how lucky they are to be well enough to reach some physical prowess.
Conversly, there are many people who squander their health or who don’t feel the need to exercise to stay alive. In some ways, I am jealous of their blissful ignorance and apparent disregard for their fortunate health.
Where eagles dare
Full with Olympic spirit during the Games, I did go for a run after work around my own Olympic Park – the one behind my house – it’s called Morden Park and there were no spectators!
It was an extremely harsh run where my lungs were doing me no favours…
What do I think of when the going gets this tough and my lungs are screaming for me to stop? Where does the power come from to see my race to its end?
It has to come from within… I have to draw on my own motivation to keep running with breaks to stop and cough. There’s no winning for me. It’s all about the actual doing as I know the importance of exercise to my on-going health and survival.
When I’m hitting my own ‘wall’ on these runs, I often think of the words of Eric Liddell, the famous ‘Chariots of Fire’ runner, reading out a passage from Isaiah, Chapter 40:
‘He gives strength to the weary;
and increases the power of the weak.
Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run, and not be weary,
they will walk, and not be faint.’
I may inadvertently inspire people to ‘bust a gut’ and raise critical funds for CF, but I find it works both ways. It’s their altruistic efforts that in turn inspire me to keep going and defying the medical odds.
The hard graft of those family and friends has made a real difference to the lives of the CF community – they have raised upwards of £30,000. These much needed funds WILL help to increase the median age of CF survival even further.
By breathing hard themselves, they have breathed life into the lungs of many CF sufferers. They all race to give life while I will continue to race for my very life…
If you feel inclined to take part and fundraise by running or by a more sedate activity, I encourage you to visit the CF Trust website for more information.
I will keep you posted on my life affirming moments, trials and tribulations as and when they happen. Please keep reading and sharing my blog and sign up if you have not already done so.
Yours cup half full.
* Cystic Fibrosis is one of the UK’s most common life threatening inherited diseases, affecting over 8,500 people. The condition affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food. Each week, five babies are born with the condition, however, each week, three young lives are also lost to it. There is currently no cure for CF. However, existing gene therapy trials in the UK are bringing people with the illness closer to a form of cure but CF is not that well known and would benefit from more public donations.
For more information and to find out more view the CF Trust Website.