I have been a relatively “healthy” person with CF and have been active for most of my life. Over the years, I have walked for exercise, hiked, swam, done hot yoga, Zumba, and Body Pump, all with varying degrees of engagement and consistency. But I never stuck with any of these for very long. In November 2017, I felt like I needed to take as much control of my health as I could. I was 38 years old, and my health was getting more difficult to maintain. I knew that my once excellent lung function had declined, and I was really out of shape. I felt disconnected from my body and was terrified that I wouldn't be able to get myself back to a place where I felt good and where my lung function wouldn't have begun the inevitable decline.
I was at a crossroads; it was time to either take the reins or hand it over to a disease I had so far been able to tame.
So, when a new Orangetheory Fitness studio opened near my house, I decided to bite the bullet and try it. Orangetheory is a five-zone, heart-rate-based training program where participants move among a treadmill, rower, and weight floor, completing a HIIT-style (high-intensity interval training) workout. The combination and variety of exercises changes with each day's workout. The goal is to spend 12 or more minutes in the orange zone (84% to 91% of a person's individual maximum heart rate).
I scheduled the introductory class and am frankly still shocked that I didn't back out. Despite my misgivings and fear of not being able to complete the workout, I sucked it up and went anyway. My first class was hard. I power walked and felt like my heart was going to pump out of my chest and like my lungs might burst at any second. I don't know that I actually followed the coach's directions and was just trying to figure out how to make it through without passing out. But I didn't pass out. I survived through the treadmill portion, then the weights and rower, and I was still in one piece. And I felt good, even though I was exhausted. Before I could overthink it, I signed up for an unlimited membership as soon as the class ended. The rest, as they say, is history.
I began as a power walker and told the coach that no matter what, I would never be a runner. Even when I was younger and in the best shape of my life, running was hard for me and had always been something I hated with a passion. Each workout was challenging, but because no two were the same, the usual boredom I felt when doing another kind of exercise never came. And because I could set my own speeds and work to my ability, I didn't feel inferior to classmates or that I couldn't keep up. Slowly, I got fitter. I spent less time in the red zone (92% or higher of my maximum heart rate) and started making headway. I set attainable goals and started increasing my speeds and weights and tried to improve my time.
One day, imbued with the confidence that the orange-lit room and the amazing coaches inspire, I decided to try to jog for portions of the treadmill block. It wasn't pretty and I wasn't going to break any records, but I was doing it. I started running more, steadily increasing my paces and the length of time I could run without needing to walk to catch my breath. I think because running was what I always found most difficult, being able to do it -- even for short periods of time -- gave me a sense of accomplishment I hadn't felt before. I ran more and more and walked less, eventually becoming a full time “slogger” (slow jogger) and very occasional speed demon (if only in my own mind). I ran the fastest mile of my life, completed what they call a “dri-triathlon” and ran without stopping for entire blocks of time. I felt great about myself and what my body could still do, advanced CF age and all. And beyond that, I found a core group of workout buddies who were supportive, motivating, and made coming to the studio fun.
But after two years and more than 450 classes, I had peaked. The limitations of my CF lungs meant I couldn't run any faster or farther, despite my best efforts. It was hard to process, and I felt like a jerk for even being frustrated about it. I know that I am one of the lucky ones and that my experience is not like most people's -- the fact that I was even doing Orangetheory at 40 was a huge victory. But still, it was hard to accept that I couldn't continue getting better.
Then TrikaftaTM happened.
When I first heard about it, I was half-kidding myself that I hoped it would make me run faster. While the promise of a longer and healthier life was paramount, the idea that this medicine might help my speed and endurance lingered in the back of my mind. What if it really was the game-changer it was promised to be? During my time at Orangetheory, there had never been anything effortless about my workouts. Some days were less challenging than others, but I never sailed through a workout, especially when it came to the treadmill. I ran, but with great effort and exertion.
But after a couple of days of taking Trikafta, something changed. I don't know how else to describe it than to say it was like I just had another gear that wasn't there before.
I set the treadmill to speeds that I wouldn't have considered and somehow maintained them. It wasn't the effortless running I had always dreamed of, but my lungs had more to give than they ever did at any time in my adult life. And for the first time ever, running became -- and I still can't believe I'm saying this -- (somewhat) fun! (Most of the time, anyway. There are still days where I seriously question why in the world I am on that treadmill.)
I never could have imagined that -- as a person with CF over the age of 40 -- I would be working out HARD five or six days a week and running nine-minute miles, or that an exercise program -- and the community I became a part of -- would transform both my physical and mental health. I also never thought that I would become inspired to take my newfound and hard-earned stamina and sign up to do the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia this year. But I am.
I don't know exactly what made Orangetheory click for me: maybe it's the goal setting and the variation? Or, maybe I just found it at a time in my life where I needed routine and to challenge myself just to prove I still could? But, regardless of the reason, I couldn't be more grateful to Orangetheory for making me believe in myself and showing me that I can do more than I ever thought possible. Also, a big shout out to Trikafta for making it all that much more fun.
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