The COPD Athlete

by | Aug 20, 2015 | COPD, Lifestyle

A Wake Up Call

49-year-old Aussie Russell Winwood was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2011. Prior to his diagnosis, Winwood lived a carefree life, smoking socially and eating and drinking whatever he wanted. At age 36 he got a huge wakeup call on Christmas day 2002 when he collapsed from a stroke. This was a turning point in Winwood’s life, the start of his journey to become the COPD Athlete.

After the stroke, Winwood gave up smoking, cut back on the booze and started eating healthier. Around that time his son took up cycling and convinced Winwood to try it out too. “My son had just started cycling and talked me into taking it up, best thing I ever did,” Winwood said. “The weight started coming off and I started feeling like a 36 year old should.”

Cycling ignited a new passion within Winwood, and shortly after he competed in his first triathlon with a friend. Over course of the following eight years, Winwood continued to compete in various triathalons, a half Ironman and a couple of ultra marathons. An ultra marathon is any footrace that is longer than the traditional 26.2 mile marathon. Needless to say, his lifestyle habits had changed drastically from those that led to his 2002 Christmas day collapse.

The Diagnosis

In 2011, Winwood noticed that his times were slowing down, exercise was becoming increasingly difficult and he found himself constantly short of breath. A trip to the doctor revealed that Winwood had COPD. A spirometer test confirmed that his lungs were operating between 22 to 30 percent of full capacity. The news devastated Winwood, especially after completely changing his lifestyle and developing healthy, productive habits. The prognosis was not what he wanted to hear.

“I was told that I would possibly need a double lung transplant at some stage in the future,” he said.

Surprisingly, the damage to Winwood’s lungs was not caused by smoking. His airways had become very narrow from years of chest infections which had caused a buildup of scar tissue.

Winwood didn’t let the diagnosis keep him from doing the thing that he had grown to love. In May of 2012, six months after his diagnosis, Winwood completed his first full Ironman race. Winwood is a huge proponent of sustainable exercise for those with COPD, and has a blog where he talks about his experience as an athlete with COPD and provides tips and tricks for athletes and those with COPD alike.

Staying Motivated

Staying motivated to workout is tough when you have a disease like COPD. Winwood faces the same physical obstacles and mental hurdles as many others with COPD. The key is overcoming the hardships. Winwood talks about his struggle with motivation and how he overcomes it:

“Motivating yourself to have a regular exercise regime can be tough sometimes, and I have certainly had days when I have found it hard to do anything.  Let’s face it, the thought of doing something that will make you breathless when you’re already struggling to breathe is not that appealing, and challenges your mental toughness. Finding a way to keep the motivation to exercise will vary from person to person.  My way is to enter events. Whether it’s a sprint distance triathlon, a charity ride or Ironman, once I’ve entered, I feel compelled to see it through and that means lots of exercise.”

Looking Ahead

Winwood attributes his continued success as an athlete with COPD to awareness, understanding the effects and symptom management. Regardless of where you are on your path with COPD, the key is to keep moving forward.

Many COPD sufferers have found relief after receiving cellular therapy from the Lung Health Institute. If you or a loved one suffers from COPD, contact one of our patient coordinators today about cellular therapy at 888-745-6697.

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