“My feeling about CF is simple: Your life is in your hands.”
A lot of young people with CF think that a gradual decline in their health is inevitable. My life shows that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I was very healthy as a kid, and I was constantly playing all kinds of sports, including years of being on very competitive travel soccer teams. But my health started to decline when I was about 18 years old and in college. By the time I was 22, my large-airway capacity had fallen to about 45 percent, and my small-airway capacity had reached to about 15 percent. It was a struggle just to breathe right.
I was just coming to grips with being a man and trying to make a life for myself. My life, the quality of it and how long I was going to be here—those were the hard questions staring me in the face. I went through some very hard times emotionally and, obviously, physically until I came to the decision that no matter what I would face in this life, I would fight with every thing I had, mentally and physically, until my last breath …because that is the only option, no matter what.
Today, I’m 26 years old, and my lung capacity is now back to nearly 60 percent. I actually reversed the decline from CF, by literally ripping open my constricted airways.
How did I do it? I tried to qualify for one of the world’s toughest endurance races, the Ironman Championship Triathlon in Hawaii. I threw myself into the task with fire and determination and something I call “positive madness.” Also, put my training videos on YouTube, and I created the Fight Forever Foundation with my two best friends, Joe Dolan and Brian Annes, to help cure CF and inspire other people.
At the time I decided to train for the Ironman, I had never run more than three miles, I didn’t own a bike, and I had never done an open-water swim. For the next two-and-a-half years, the Ironman was my one goal. My typical routine was to get up at 3:30 a.m. and do my 90 minutes of CF treatments. Then, I would run or bike for an hour or more. I’d shower and eat, and I’d go to my construction job. (I’ve been doing construction since I was age 12.) I’d finish my eight hours on the job site at about 4:30 p.m., and then I’d do more training. I’d go home, eat dinner, maybe do some work on the computer for the Fight Forever Foundation, and then sleep. Then, I’d do it the next day.
Along the way, I ran four marathons and completed three Olympic distance-triathlons. I even quit my job and moved to Austin, Texas, for three months to train near where one of the 2008 Ironman qualifiers would take place. Only the top finisher in each age group would get to go to the Ironman, and I came in 23rd, in a time of 5:48. That wasn’t bad, considering the 25-minute bathroom break I had to take (thanks to CF) and a crash on my bike in a rainstorm.
I didn’t qualify for the Ironman, but I gave the campaign everything I had. I got healthy again, and I challenged myself. Since I was a kid, I’ve felt most alive when I was doing something physical, and there’s no way that CF was going to take that away from me, without a hard fight. Those lessons can be applied to anyone who has CF.
Today, I’m working at a chiropractic and strength-training facility in Chicago, where I do things like give people electrical stimulation and ultrasounds before the chiropractor works on them. In September 2010, I finished my courses at the National Personal Training Institute, which is my first step towards becoming a physical therapist and personal trainer.
Nagging injuries have stopped me from running or biking right now, but I still swim regularly. I’ve also started conditioning at a boxing gym, and that’s an unbelievable workout. With boxing, it’s all about explosiveness. It’s just as hard—maybe harder—than the endurance workouts for the Ironman.
My feeling about CF is simple: Your life is in your hands. That’s a big responsibility to lay on a kid or even an adult, and we wish it wasn’t laid on us. But facing the challenge makes you stronger. It’s a mental fight as well as physical.
So, the bottom line with CF is that, unlike some other things in life, you can’t say to yourself, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” You have to decide that the fight is worth it, dig in, and fight with everything you have. And most importantly…in your toughest and darkest hours, remember that you are not alone. There are not only many of us with CF, but many others in this life who are going through some very tough circumstances as well. We are all in this together…DON’T EVER FORGET THAT.
Favorite Holiday: Christmas
Favorite Food: Italian
Favorite Pastime: Spending time with the ones I love
Favorite Movie: Rocky Balboa
Favorite Music: It depends on the mood
Favorite Color: Blue
Nickname: Boom Boom
One Word to Describe You: Heart
Role Model: I’ve had many different influences in my life both within my family and outside of it, and I’m very grateful to those special people who have taken the time with me along the way.
Dream Vacation: Any place with the ones I love
Words of Wisdom: You only fail when you don’t try