A young woman with cystic fibrosis proudly stands among sports awards and memorabilia.

How Exercise Kept Me Out of the Hospital Until I Was 26

I have always been active. Since I could remember, I’ve been involved in all different sports, by recommendation of my doctor from an early age. I wasn’t diagnosed with CF until I was 5 years old, which many of you probably know is relatively late. Once I was diagnosed my pediatric CF doctor, Dr. Cooper, recommended that my parents get me involved in sports while I was young to keep me active and keep my CF lungs healthier.

Exercise, in my opinion, is another form of treatment for people with CF. I can feel the difference in my body when I exercise vs. when I don’t. It helps me move extra mucus out, and also makes my vest time work harder, because everything’s already loosened up down there in my sticky lungs.

Playing sports with cystic fibrosis

Since I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, I have played pretty much every sport: soccer, basketball, softball, gymnastics, swimming, diving, field hockey, lacrosse, track, ultimate frisbee. You name it, I did it. Some sports, like soccer for example, didn’t do it for me (I was a dandelion picker). But a few sports really did stick with me. I found a love for basketball very early on, starting in 3rd grade, and continuing on to play AAU, CYO, and middle and high school teams year-round. I didn’t let CF hold me back from being the best I could be at the sports I loved.

However, playing year-round for many years in a row, and some not-so-great coaches, led to burn out in basketball pretty early for me. By my freshman year in high school, I was mentally done with basketball, and I decided to focus my energy on lacrosse. I was able to make the varsity team as a freshman, but I had a coach who was not the best (to put it nicely), who ended up taking away my love for the sport.

Sports became my passion

Fortunately, enough of my sports stayed with me for long enough to create a real passion for competition. By the time I got to high school, I was involved in 5 different sports before I graduated – basketball and track each for 1 year, swimming and field hockey each for 2 years, and lacrosse for 4 years. My lung function flourished with how active I was, in the high/mid 90%s FEV1 when I graduated (I can’t remember exactly – it was a long time ago!).

Being a part of these teams meant practices or games 6 days a week, sometimes doubles when it was pre-season. It kept me extremely active, and therefore extremely healthy. It also conditioned me to keep this fitness-focused attitude once I had graduated and gone off to college, and was now responsible for motivating myself to keep active.

Once in college, the pressure was on me to stay motivated for my first time in my life. I had to create my own exercise routine, no longer having a coach to do that for me. That’s when I joined the ultimate frisbee team, but also began running on my own and going to the gym on my own. I found a new routine that worked for me, and it continued to keep me happy and healthy. I took motivation and tools I had learned from my many different sports and continued to apply them to my workouts. After I graduated, I even was able to train and finish a half marathon, which I wanted to do ultimately to prove to myself, and others, that CF doesn’t have to hold you back from any goal.

The lasting effects of exercise on cystic fibrosis

I truly believe it is because of how active I have always been, that I did not have any exacerbations, IVs or hospital visits until I was 26 years old. Even with fighting MAC bacteria in my lungs for 8 years (starting around 2012), I have stayed active and diligent, and was able to avoid any treatment until 2017, and it has had limited effect on my lungs (thank goodness) – besides one lesion that is now gone.

I am now 28 years old, and to this day, my lung function has never dropped below 80%. I don’t think that would have happened without staying as diligent to my exercise routine as I have, and playing sports with cystic fibrosis certainly helped. And yes, I am still an exercise freak 5 years post-college, working out (running, swimming, lifting, cycling, playing frisbee) 5 days a week – and I don’t plan on changing that any time soon.

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