I lost five stone to get back in the game

Asthma can cause great dis­tress to those who ex­pe­ri­ence its symp­toms. Here, Colm Mur­phy tells Joy Or­pen how play­ing sport has not only strength­ened his lungs — it has given him a whole new lease of life

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - CONTENTS - For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact the Asthma So­ci­ety of Ire­land, tel: (01) 817-8886, or see asthma.ie Also see makeasthmaper­sonal.ie

Colm Mur­phy (29) plans to com­pete in a gru­elling Iron­man event in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture. What makes this state­ment in­trigu­ing is the fact that he suf­fers from asthma, a con­di­tion that causes dif­fi­culty breath­ing, and which de­ters some peo­ple from play­ing sport or ex­er­cis­ing. But Colm knows from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that ex­er­cise im­proves his qual­ity of life, and de­creases the im­pact of his asthma.

Colm spent the first seven years of his life in Canada. He then moved to Kerry with his fam­ily, when his mother, a doc­tor, got a job in Lis­towel. His fa­ther, who is also a doc­tor, works in the pub­lic health sec­tor in Ca­van.

Soon af­ter the fam­ily set­tled in Ire­land, Colm de­vel­oped per­sis­tent chest prob­lems. “For the first cou­ple of months, I was cough­ing and wheez­ing,” he ex­plains. “It was mostly at night, and I used to wake up a lot.” Given the fact that his par­ents were both doc­tors, while sev­eral members of his ex­tended fam­ily suf­fered from the con­di­tion, it didn’t take long for a di­ag­no­sis of asthma to be made. “It af­fects your bronchial tubes,” Colm ex­plains. “These tubes feed air into your lungs. When you have an asthma at­tack, they start con­tract­ing and you can feel the air just isn’t flow­ing. So you end up in a state of dis­ar­ray, and that’s when you start to panic.”

Colm be­lieves the smoky at­mos­phere in Ire­land more than likely trig­gered his chest prob­lems. “In New­found­land, where we lived in Canada, the air was very clean. It was also very cold in win­ter, but it was crisp, and dry, too,” he ex­plains. “One win­ter, we had 16 feet of snow. There were mounds of it ev­ery­where and you’d have to wait for the snow­ploughs to come and clear the road. Ire­land, on the other hand, is very damp and wet, and there is smoke from open fires in some places.”

In his first few months here, Colm’s con­stant coughs and colds caused him to miss school quite of­ten. Fol­low­ing his di­ag­no­sis, he be­gan us­ing a ‘re­liever’ in­haler, which worked well for him. How­ever, he now un­der­stands that this was not an ideal so­lu­tion. “They’ll help stop the spasm and re­lieve the at­tack,” he says. “But ideally, you should be us­ing a pre­ven­ta­tive in­haler on a very reg­u­lar ba­sis, and a re­liever only when you have an at­tack.” He says he was able to avoid be­ing hos­pi­talised, thanks to timely med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tions, es­pe­cially at night, from his mother.

Colm, like most boys his age, was mad about sport, par­tic­u­larly foot­ball, roller-hockey (a sub­sti­tute for the ice hockey he had played with his broth­ers in Canada) and swim­ming. But his asthma put a damper on things. “In pri­mary school my foot­ball team got into the fi­nals, but I couldn’t play that day be­cause of an asthma at­tack,” he re­calls. “My team lost, and I thought it was all my fault.”

As time went on, Colm be­gan to shun sport, be­cause he was wor­ried the other play­ers would make fun of him if he started wheez­ing and cough­ing. The sit­u­a­tion got even worse when he be­came a teenager, so he be­gan to lose even more con­fi­dence. “Sure, that goes with the age,” he con­cedes, “but asthma cer­tainly ex­ac­er­bates it.” Then, when he was 14, Colm and his fam­ily moved to New­cas­tle West, Co Lim­er­ick, caus­ing ad­di­tional feel­ings of iso­la­tion. By now he had be­come so seden­tary he was steadily putting on weight. “It doesn’t help your asthma when your lungs are al­ready stressed,” he points out. “The more weight I put on, the worse I’d feel. I even gave up swim­ming, which I loved, be­cause I couldn’t bear my friends to see me in a cos­tume. Back then, I was very un­happy, and this con­tin­ued un­til my early 20s. I had is­sues with my weight, my health, and my lack of a so­cial life.”

In the in­terim, Colm did a de­gree in ap­plied ecol­ogy and a mas­ter’s in marine bi­ol­ogy. He’d also spent a year in Van­cou­ver, Canada. But with jobs in his cho­sen field hard to find, he changed tack, and en­rolled at Univer­sity Col­lege Cork (UCC) to do a mas­ter’s in in­for­ma­tion sys­tems for busi­ness per­for­mance. He also met Ais­ling O’Hal­lo­ran, who was in Cork do­ing a post-grad­u­ate de­gree in film pro­duc­tion, and they have been to­gether ever since.

When he was 24, Colm de­cided it was now or never, when it came to ac­com­plish­ing his per­sonal goals. He wanted to run marathons, go travelling, and climb Car­raun­toohil in Co Kerry. “But first I needed to lose weight and get my asthma un­der con­trol,” he says.

His ma­jor ob­sta­cle was his breath­ing, which at that time was made worse by the fact that he was un­fit and over­weight. So he be­gan to ex­er­cise — very gen­tly at the be­gin­ning. “The first time I went run­ning, my lungs gave up af­ter 100 me­tres,” he ad­mits. “But three months later my legs gave up be­fore my lungs did! I also be­gan to watch my diet. I still had three meals a day, but in­stead of pizza, I’d have fish and veg. Fizzy drinks were the hard­est thing to give up. Over­all, I was eat­ing far fewer calo­ries and ex­er­cis­ing a lot more.”

In time, Colm lost more than five stone, and is ab­so­lutely de­lighted he did. “Some of my hood­ies from that time look like huge dresses,” he laughs.

It took Colm about two years of grad­ual train­ing to run his first marathon, which he did in Dublin in 2013. Now, it seems there’s no stop­ping him. Last year, he did three marathons: “They al­most crip­pled me, but my lungs have never been stronger,” he vol­un­teers. He also sum­mited Car­raun­toohil in three hours, although most peo­ple take four to six hours to do this stren­u­ous climb. “We took pic­tures at the top and I have a big grin on my face,” he says.

‘You can feel the air isn’t flow­ing. So you end up in a state of dis­ar­ray, and that’s when you start to panic’

Cur­rently, Colm runs sev­eral times a week, plays tag rugby, cy­cles and swims. Next year, he will take part in a triathlon, which will in­volve three of those dis­ci­plines. In a few years’ time, he hopes to com­pete in an Iron­man, com­pris­ing a 3.9km swim, a 180km cy­cle and a marathon (42.2km). Not bad for a boy who, once upon a time, was dev­as­tated when he couldn’t play a foot­ball match be­cause of his asthma. Colm says since he be­came ac­tive, his breath­ing has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly, he has far fewer asthma at­tacks, while the qual­ity of his life is very much bet­ter.

That is why he is fully be­hind the web­site makeasthmaper­sonal.ie, which features an on­line tool­kit to help peo­ple man­age their asthma more ef­fec­tively. It encourages them to track their symp­toms and trig­gers, as well as out­lin­ing the im­por­tant first steps in de­vel­op­ing a per­sonal asthma man­age­ment plan with their GP, nurse, or phar­ma­cist.

Surely a great first step to bet­ter health.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.