Cystic fibrosis patient plans to take on the Ironman race - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Cystic fibrosis patient plans to take on the Ironman race

Posted: Updated: Sep 26, 2011 12:40 PM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When every step is a fight, and each breath feels like fire, motivation often becomes even more important than preparation.
 
That's what Chris Saling, a 28-year-old man with cystic fibrosis, is learning right now as he trains for the Ironman race.
 
"There are going to be so many emotions going through my head when I cross that finish line," Saling says. "The amount of work that I put into this -- the amount of people that are cheering us on -- it's going to be a very emotional and yet, very, very exciting moment."
 
With the finish line in mind, Chris Saling spends multiple hours a week training for a triathlon most people don't think he can finish.
 
"It kind of feels like an anvil is sitting on your chest," Chris says. "It feels like your lungs are on fire. You kind of just separate yourself from the pain and if you can do that, you can kind of push through anything."
 
With lungs functioning -- at best -- at 70 percent capacity, people with cystic fibrosis are usually told they won't live long, and won't have much of a life.
 
Dean Saling, Chris's father, recalls how the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis affected his family.
 
"My wife and I were -- I can remember it exactly -- standing in the hospital room waiting for them to come back following this exam," he says. "They walked into the room and my wife and I could see it all over their face. He was nine months of age and they told us he had cystic fibrosis. We already knew what that meant because we had already done the research. The prognosis was not good at all. Thank goodness for significant advances."
 
He is now 28 years old, when initially, Dean says, they didn't think his son would make it past age six.
 
And after living two decades beyond doctors' predictions, Chris decided even that wasn't good enough, launching a foundation called Every Day Has a Finish Line, allowing other people with cystic fibrosis to choose in which way he'd beat the odds next.
 
"The public actually got to vote to on what my next challenge was and what I had to do," Chris says, laughing. "The Ironman won, unfortunately."
 
It's a challenge that goes way beyond the 1.2 mile swim, the 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run. It's a challenge that begins with three hours every day in his chair in his room, hooked up to a special vibrating machine that makes it possible to clear his lungs.
 
"So I do this therapy three-to-four times a day -- it's usually an hour a piece," he says. "The chest therapy vibrates -- obviously -- my lungs. What it does is it loosens the mucous so I can cough out the mucous so I don't get an infection in my lungs."
 
And amazingly, it's the time sitting in his room on the machine that often provides Chris the greatest struggle.
 
"The treatments themselves are not necessarily challenging," Chris says. "They don't hurt. The most challenging part is trying to live a normal life and do all of this. It's really tough to have any type of normalcy with work and a social life as well as trying to fit in three hours of treatments and breathing treatments throughout the day. That's the most challenging aspect."
 
But somehow he manages to balance breathing exercises, a full-time job and a girlfriend along with his training. Because for Chris, finishing this triathlon is about proving something.
 
"This endurance -- Ironman -- it is, in a way, very similar to the everyday struggles that people with cystic fibrosis go through. So, as I'm out there, in a way it's like I'll kind of be with everyone else who has cystic fibrosis at the same time going through their own struggles.
 
"I really decided I wasn't going to let this disease define me: the hospital visits, the medications, the treatments. I could care less what they have to do to me. I'm not really that scared. If I can do the Ironman, I think I can take on some hospital visits."
 
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