Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Knock My Socks Off"

by Mike Burke

I wanted to thank Ronnie for providing the CF community with this forum. Additional thanks for asking me to contribute. My name is Mike Burke. I’m from St. Louis, Missouri and I’m 41 years old. I have run 9 full marathons and somewhere around 15 half marathons. I have finished those races in the top 30-40% of the field.

Upon deciding Cystic Fibrosis would no longer dictate my decision making, mood and general outlook on life, I wanted to do something that would “Knock My Socks Off”. I wondered what I could do that would be something normal, that everyone else can do and at the same time I wanted to do something few people could do.

Growing up my parents were told by the doctors to “Keep him active”. So I played soccer, baseball and every kind of sport. I was an average athlete and as an adult I discovered I was not tall, fast, muscular or coordinated enough to play these sports very well. I was however short, skinny overly stubborn and motivated by something beyond normal people (Cystic Fibrosis), which is great raw material for distance runners. So right away I knew that my accomplishment would involve running. Running can be boring though, so I needed to make it fun and challenging. So how was I going to do that?

Run a marathon! Everyone can run a little. Not everyone can run 26.2 miles without stopping. Only 1% of our population has finished a marathon. I wonder what percent of that 1% can’t breathe well, can’t digest food well and has to manage diabetes? Not many I’d guess. So although I’m not particularly fast, I am in elite company.

Sometimes I feel like a coughing and barfing machine. Many times I will get coughing so hard the gag reflex in my body would take over and I'd let it rip. Throwing up on my shoes is a perfect excuse to buy new running shoes but it is frustrating. I know however that the coughing is clearing my lungs of that nasty stuff. You know the stuff you cough up, that when looking at it, would make mere humans without CF want to barf themselves.

So I could feel the therapeutic value in my lungs in just a short time of running. With this in mind I was not going to quit. Soon, I was able to run long distances without stopping. 13 miles. 15 miles. 18 miles. 21 miles. I was amazed at what my body could do. I was dumbfounded how I could gain 10 pounds while running 40-50 miles a week. Sure I got a little muscular in the legs, but 10 pounds!?!? I had not been able to gain weight since high school and at 30 I was putting on the LBs.

I wanted to run well every-day. That meant eating well and taking my pills every single time a piece of food went in my mouth. All the things I hated doing as a kid and young adult I was embracing. Taking 8,000 pills a year wasn’t a burden. Sitting in the vest was still a pain but it helped me achieve a goal. Going to the clinic was not fun but I wanted to know how I could live better to run better.

I was seeing the physical benefits of keeping to the medicine and treatments. Better yet I was feeling the mental benefits. The discipline, dedication and sacrifice it takes to run was building confidence. I was growing in confidence and I was bringing this discipline into my life in a fun way. I had overcome my fears of living with Cystic Fibrosis by dedicating myself to running. Each day I was proving I could do something normal. Something I saw people doing every day. My lungs were clearer. I was coughing less. I had gained weight.

The mental benefits were not just for me. The best influence for me was watching my wife and family. They were seeing a new life in me. I was being an example to them of how life should be lived when facing a tough challenge. They were worrying less seeing me try so hard.

So running started as a required therapy. So what! Everyone is told by the doctor to eat right and exercise. That isn’t anything different than anyone else has to do. We just have to do a little more of it. I found a way to make therapy fun and eventually it became a passion.

I love to run!

Not everyone is up for a marathon and not everyone will run to stay healthy. There are tons of activities that you can do to clear your lungs and have fun. Find yours.

You just may find peace, confidence, strength and health.


Note from Ronnie: Thank you SO MUCH Mike for taking the time to write this inspiring guest blog. You're not only an great role model for the CF community, but an inspiration for me personally. I look at guys like you and think "If he can do it, than surely can I!". I look forward to seeing which mountain you climb next and will be cheering you on every step, or stride, of the way!