Running Strong With Cystic Fibrosis

Steve Bell (center) has battled Cystic Fibrosis since he was three months old. Photo: outrunningtheodds.com

Running has helped one man fight his battle with the lung disease.

Steve Bell, 29, was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic lung disease, at just three months old. His doctors described his illness as “failure to thrive.”

Since his diagnosis, the daily management of his disease has been a full-time job. He starts every morning with over an hour of nebulizer treatments while wearing “the vest,” which loosens and breaks up the mucus in his chest that, when built up, can make it nearly impossible to breathe. Over the course of the day he’ll take up to 100 pills, depending on how much he eats, to help his body absorb nutrients that are blocked by the mucus buildup.

But the treatment that works best for Bell doesn’t come from a doctor’s recommendation or even a prescription. Bell says what has helped him defy and overcome Cystic Fibrosis is something much simpler than that. It’s running.

“You lift weights to make your muscles stronger,” Bells says. “Well, it’s the same for the lungs. You run faster and longer; your lungs get stronger and stronger. It’s a critical component of my daily treatment. I do my hour of prescribed treatment like the nebulizers and the vest. But running is just as good if not a better form of therapy for my CF. Running has done so much more than just keep my lungs healthy. It’s kept my mind and body healthy.”

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Bell found running, like many runners, just after college. He no longer had high school and college soccer to keep him in shape, and like many other people, he took to running to combat his sedentary lifestyle brought on by working a corporate America desk job. But unlike other runners Bell kept and continues to keep running not to lose weight or to bring down his cholesterol levels, but because he knows one day he might not be able to.

“I have friends whose lungs have diminished so much that they need lung transplants,” says Bell, who blogs about life as a runner with Cystic Fibrosis at Outrunningtheodds.com. “I want to enjoy running while I can because I might not be able to at some point in the future.”

Earlier this month, Bell ran the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Half Marathon, just one of the many half-marathons and marathons he has on his race schedule this year, and shared his story through a campaign put on by Dick’s Sporting Goods, showing the many reasons why people run. The campaign revealed stories of triumph, loss and overcoming the odds through running. Bell’s story showed that not only does he run because one day he might not be able to, but also that having Cystic Fibrosis is never going to hold him back from doing anything, especially running.

May is Cystic Fibrosis awareness month and Bell says this month means more than bringing awareness to the 30,000 people living in the U.S. with the disease or raising money to finally find a cure. He wants Cystic Fibrosis awareness to show that those affected by the disease are just like you and me.

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“We are strong,” Bell says. “We are fighters. We are much more than just people with CF. We are doctors, lawyers, and executives. We are brothers, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives. We are marathoners and triathletes. We are individuals that are not defined or held back CF. It’s just something we have. And it’s most important that people know that.”

Doctors told Bell countless times that his life would be defined and decided by Cystic Fibrosis, but that only made him want to prove them wrong. And to anyone who is told they can’t do something, Bell says this is just a reason try to even harder and show them that you can.

“To those that think running is something they can’t do, whether they have CF or not, I think you need to get out there and give it a shot,” he says. “Throughout my life, people have told me ‘no.’ If I listened to them, I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve accomplished.”

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