Your disease doesn’t define you, says Ironman participant Russell Winwood.
In early June, Russell Winwood, who has just 30% lung capacity and lives with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), undertook the challenge of his life, aiming to complete the Cairns Ironman event with his oxygen tank in tow.
While Russell may not have finished the final leg of the incredible 226-kilometre challenge, he left nothing in the tank.
It was 2011 when the 53-year-old father and husband was diagnosed with COPD, a progressive and irreversible lung condition that causes narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe.
“I could have let this disease slowly suffocate the life out of me. Instead, I decided to do an Ironman event and then another, and another,” Russell said.
Russell relies on supplementary oxygen when exercising, but he doesn’t let that hold him back. He is no stranger to the race scene, with multiple Ironman and marathons under his belt. For the Cairns Ironman event, he carried a 2.5kg supply of oxygen for the cycle and run legs of the event with eight battery changes along the way.
Russell said carrying the oxygen machine added to the challenge – more weight meant a bigger burden on his lungs.
“As the race went on I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep my oxygen levels controlled. The extra weight really took its toll during the hilly sections of the cycle leg. By the time I reached the run leg I was far more fatigued than in previous races,” he said.
“I am very proud of what I achieved on race day, particularly given the tough conditions, even if it wasn’t the outcome I went in for. I’m already reviewing the day to see where I can improve next time.”
Russell is standing by his motto, to never let his disease define him, and is already back in training for his next race where he will take on heartbreak hill in Sydney’s City2Surf in August.
“My next triathlon will follow, likely the Hervey Bay 100 in November, which is made up of a 2km swim, 80km cycle and a 18km run. It’s not an Ironman but it’s certainly a challenge,” Russell said.
“I hope my experience will continue to motivate other people living with a chronic lung condition. You can be so much more than your diagnosis. When people are faced with adversity they can either give up and be devoured or they can fight and truly see what they are capable of.”
Russell hopes to raise $20,000 to support pulmonary rehabilitation programs across the country. The exercise and education programs support people living with a chronic lung condition to exercise safely, manage breathlessness and live well with their condition.
To show your support, visit: https://lungfoundation.grassrootz.com/run-for-lungs/copd-athlete