The man who runs with 30% lung capacity

The story I’m about tell you today may not be as light as those you normally read among our oddities, but it certainly exemplifies a man’s willpower and is an incredible source of inspiration when you think your life is difficult or impossible.

Imagine if progressively your lung capacity decreased. Imagine if your life gradually turned into a nightmare in which you felt like you are suffocating. Imagine if this happened to you at 36, when you are in your prime. Think if it was not a nightmare but if it was your life, real, everyday life.

No, it’s not a nightmare: it’s your life

This story happened to Russell Winwood, an Australian who at the age of 36 received a troubling sign for the first time in his life: a stroke. From that point on and having passed the most acute clinical phase, Russell decided to change his life completely, choosing a healthy lifestyle: he stopped smoking and drinking, began to eat well and, above all, to exercise. A lot of sports, so many that he went so far as to run several half-Ironman and some ultramarathons. But the undesirable twists and turns of his fate are not yet over: in 2011 Russell begins to notice an alarming decrease in his lung capacity. Training has become hell and oxygen debt plagues him. He is diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), or : his lungs are destined to deteriorate more and more. The sentence is final, but not for him.

Despite his lungs functioning at 30 percent, only six months after the dreadful diagnosis, Russell got back on his feet by aiming even higher: he would continue doing what he had been doing for years, but with the burden of a tremendously compromised respiratory system. Of course, he cannot do it without practicing breathing routines and without oxygen support, but his athletic achievements leave everyone astounded, so much so that he has earned the nickname “COPD runner.”

At 56 years old, he completes the Chicago Marathon in 6 hours, 28 minutes and 33 seconds: that might seem like a consistent time, but consider that Russell can only run 400 meters in a row and walk 100 so as not to strain his lungs too much. And his achievements do not stop as he runs the NYC Marathon in 2015, the London Marathon in 2017, and the Boston in 2017. Time to stop? No way: Russell is already registered for the 2023 Tokyo Marathon and hopes to go to Berlin, partly because his doctors are preparing him for the time when he will have to quit altogether.

An example

You may think (and wish) that such a thing never happens to you, and I understand that, but that is not what matters. Count the example Russell is setting and has set, inspiring millions of people not to accept such a harsh sentence, trying to heal their bodies to the point of pushing them to their limits. As he did for his life and mind, of course, but also to put himself at the service of others by raising funds and to give hope to those who accept a sentence like his by letting go and waiting at home to literally inhale for the last time.

This is not the case for Russell, who modestly and serenely says of himself, “I’m not fast, but I can do it.” And with him also those who see in his experience an example to try to succeed at any juncture.

Thank you Russell.


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