Editor’s Note: RunCreature is deeply interested in the stories of runners, both new and old, doing daring, inspirational and courageous things. Wollongong runner Bradley Dryburgh fits that description.
Dryburgh was born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease with no cure, which can cause irreversible damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs. People with CF develop an abnormal amount of excessively thick and sticky mucus, which clogs their lungs and airways, and traps bacteria. This causes persistent lung infections and — over time — makes it harder to breathe.
For people like Dryburgh, managing the disease is often a lifelong and relentless endeavour. Everyday he takes up to 50 tablets, plus additional medicines which are inhaled with the aid of a nebuliser (a machine that turns liquids into vapours). There are frequent medical check-ups, as well as emergency hospitalisations when a particularly bad infection and cough exacerbate things and leads to a bleed inside the lungs. And there’s also the grim reality: in Australia, the average life expectancy for someone with CF is just 38. The major cause of death: lung failure.
Dryburgh isn’t just determined to defy that statistical outcome, he’s on a mission to help raise awareness about the disease — and he’s doing so by running. Since July, the 24-year-old has been preparing his legs and his lungs to run his first marathon. He has three concurrent aims: to prove to himself he’s capable of meeting the gruelling physical challenge; to inspire the roughly 3500 Australians living with CF to chase their dreams; and to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Australia and its research into new medications and life-extending treatments.
When we heard about Dryburgh’s marathon attempt and his fundraising effort — #42forCF — we wanted to help spread the word. But we also wanted to try something a bit different. Rather than interviewing Dryburgh and writing a profile, we wanted him to share his story and explain his motivation in his own words. He penned a letter for RunCreature and we’re very happy to share that piece of writing with you now.
More Information: Bradley Dryburgh, along with his mates from the Active Boys Run Club, will run 42.2 km this Saturday (12 December) starting from North Wollongong beach at 8:00 am. You can donate to Bradley Dryburgh’s #42forCF fundraiser to aid in the development of life-saving medicines. And if you live in the Illawarra, you can also head out to the Kembla Joggers open track night this Thursday (10 December) at Beaton Park in support of Dryburgh and CF Australia.
By Bradley Dryburgh
I’m writing to you because I’m on a mission. I’m writing to you as someone who wants your future to be bright. I’m writing to you as a warrior — someone who is ready, now more than ever, to fight back against the life-threatening genetic disease damaging your lungs.
I’m writing to you because I know your story, inside and out; and because your lungs are my lungs. And your disease — Cystic Fibrosis (CF) — is my disease. And your future is my future.
And this mission that I’m on… this is our mission.
Our story doesn’t begin on the 5th of July, 2020. But this is where I’ll start.
Becoming a runner
It was the fourth Sunday in a row that I had laced-up my sneakers and set off for a 5 km trot with my mates in Wollongong. Our crew — the Active Boys Run Club — formed during 2019. Our goal, as the name implies, was to get fit, but also to support each other through all of the challenges life throws our way, and to be there as mates.
I’d been enjoying the running, but it’s fair to say, I wasn’t feeling much fitter than when I started. For each of the past four weekends, I’d been shuffling along at a gentle pace. My legs were feeling heavy, my breathing pretty laboured.
You see, I was no distance runner. I grew up on the track, playing with the painful yet more forgiving 100 and 200m sprints. They were hard in the moment, but over fast. Quick. I liked that type of running.
But it had been eight years since I’d done any track racing. And the far stuff? Forget it. I hadn’t run further than 6km in my entire life.
A necessary lifestyle change
Nonetheless, I was getting out there with my mates to improve. I felt like I needed to.
Over the past few years, my professional endeavours had consumed me. I had been working in real estate, and my approach was to do everything in my power to positively impact the lives of my clients. But the work was non-stop, and it left me feeling like I was in the worst shape of my life.
I didn’t feel like the guy who was defeating the potentially fatal illness he was born with. That’s who I had been. I had been the conqueror of a killer genetic condition. This had been a colossal part of my personal story. But that part of my identity was slipping away. I didn’t feel like a conqueror. I felt like a guy who was passively watching his health deteriorate. And as someone with CF, I couldn’t afford to let that happen.
Cystic Fibrosis can be a vicious condition. It’s a condition that’s unrelenting; one that takes zero days off. It was on that fateful Sunday, the 5th of July, when I was suddenly reminded of that hard, often scary reality.
A health scare and an idea
A few hours after my morning effort, I found myself rushing to Wollongong hospital’s emergency department.
The first signs of a bleed in the lungs is the sound. A crackling noise. Then you feel the accompanying crackling sensation. And soon, you’re coughing up blood.
Needless to say, coughing blood isn’t fun. In fact, it can be quite scary. But it’s one of the challenges that arise with CF.
This would be the first of three bleeds in two days. Finding myself back in the emergency room the following night, I had an overwhelming feeling it was time to do something; not only to better my own health, but to make an even broader impact for people living with this condition.
It was there, in Wollongong hospital, that the the idea for #42forCF was born. I was going to run a marathon. Or rather, We were going to run a marathon.
Chasing my first marathon
A CF patient going from a hospital bed in July, with bleeding lungs, to completing his first marathon in December, less than six months later?
I know it seems unlikely. Implausible. Maybe unachievable. But I’m a determined guy. I’ve never let CF control or limit my life before this, and I’m not about to start.
My whole life, I considered CF to be my biggest blessing and also my greatest teacher. It taught me that nothing in life is promised; that the best and most worthwhile things we can attain are earned through a positive outlook and a great work ethic. Rather than holding me back, CF has propelled me forward; it’s motivated me to work hard, to explore my passions, to uncover my capabilities, to defy odds and expectations.
#42forCF is my way of showing people with CF across the country (and their families) that they too are capable of incredible things, so long as they believe in themselves.
I was going to run. Far. 42.2 kilometres far. More than 8-times further than I had ever run before. And I was excited.
More setbacks on the training journey
Under the watchful eye of my new coach, Ben Seymour, the journey began in late July. And amazingly, for a guy who’s no stranger to challenges and bumps in the road, the first four months went completely to plan. With each week there were new accomplishments. I was methodically moving closer to meeting the goal I had set out to complete.
But then, in November, just one month before I was scheduled to run, my consistent training came to a crashing halt. It was the rule of threes.
First, it was a calf injury. Second, there were three new bleeds on my lungs, which required another stint in hospital. And third, I came down with a case of gout, which is a form of arthritis that causes pretty bad joint pain and swelling in your big toe.
Calves, lungs and toes. All were ‘injured’ in the span of two weeks, and all are kind of important when trying to tackle a marathon.
The most concerning, of course, was my lungs.
It raised for me a very real question: Do I become a victim of my circumstances and use this as an excuse to fall short of my goal?
I was determined the answer would be a definitive NO.
When my doctor walked into the room at the hospital, the first question I asked defines what #42forCF is all about.
“Hey doc,” I said, “I’ve got a marathon to run in a month. What do I have to do to make sure that happens?”
Refusing to back down
The doctors know me well enough now to understand I chase challenges and I thrive under pressure; they knew I wasn’t going to back down. I was prepared to do whatever it took to run.
They told me to monitor for the usual symptoms, and to keep a clear line of communication if I began feeling unwell.
Fast forward a few weeks and here I am.
I’m just days away from the biggest challenge of my life. I realise that. I’ve thought about it endlessly, and I know it’s a massive undertaking. A marathon is no walk in the park. It’s gruelling. There will be pain, suffering, self-doubt. But then… I look around me and I feel blessed; blessed to be surrounded by my family and some truly incredible, stand-by-your-side mates who have supported me through every triumph and every hurdle along the way.
It’s going down on Saturday
On December 12th, a crew of us will set out from Stuart Park in North Wollongong at 8:00 am on a journey that I know will change my life, and that I hope will change the lives of many more people living with CF around Australia.
Our loved ones and local community will be standing amongst the north beach picnic huts watching on (socially distanced of course), cheering us on, and helping us move forward.
This Saturday, we will fight every kilometre, and lean on each other for support. It’ll be hard, but this is my mission. It’s our mission.
This is our time, Bradley. It’s our time to conquer #42forCF.
With love, and strength,
Bradley J Dryburgh.