After a Lung Infection and a Pandemic, I Finally Ran the Boston Marathon

I’ve been a runner for most of my life. After having to drop out of three previous marathons because of my CF, I was finally ready to run this year’s Boston Marathon.

| 6 min read
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Katie O'Grady
Katie O'Grady running Boston Marathon

Less than 1% people in the U.S. have run a marathon. And even fewer have done so with a life-threatening illness like cystic fibrosis. That is, until 10 cystic fibrosis warriors stepped up to the line of the historic 125th Boston Marathon.

I have always been an avid runner, starting when I was 6 years old, eventually running competitively in high school and in college. I had a knack for it and a deep love of the sport. My love for running, however, changed after I graduated from college in 2017. I was mentally and physically exhausted from years of training, and I was repeatedly let down due to debilitating lung infections.

Katie O'Grady running Boston Marathon

Two years later, I was facing a lot of setbacks because of my cystic fibrosis; my CF was truly becoming a force in my life, and I had little or no control over it. In September 2019, I found myself inside the four walls of a hospital room hooked up to IV antibiotics. This is not somewhere any of us would want to be, but I knew it was time, and I was hopeful the antibiotic cocktail would flush out the infection in my lungs.

During one of the days, a doctor walked in and introduced himself as Dr. Uluer -- he was another cystic fibrosis specialist that worked in my clinic. My normal doctor had told him about my running, which had piqued his interest. Even though I lay in front of him in my hospital bed, hooked up to IV antibiotics, Dr. Uluer asked me if I would be interested in running the Boston Marathon with potentially 10 other cystic fibrosis warriors. He said it would be the largest group of CF patients running at one event. My first reaction was to look at the IV that was pumping medication into my arm, just to make sure he understood my current state.

I answered back with hesitation, “I will have to think about it.” Over the years, I had signed up for three different marathons, and I couldn’t start any of them because of illness and burnout.

The thought of training for the Boston Marathon when I was currently bedridden was not something I was easily going to say yes to.

One month later, everything changed with the medical breakthrough, Trikafta®. Trikafta has given me a second chance at life. I never before imagined that a medication could make me feel normal and HEALTHY. I was a new woman with no coughing, deeper breaths, energy -- and best of all, I was back to running. When the time came, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be a part of the cystic fibrosis marathon team called “26.2 miles apart.”

Leading up to the marathon, training was going so much better than I had ever expected. I told myself that this time I was going to be running the marathon, this time was going to be different after so many failed attempts. But then, the unthinkable happened: a global pandemic. The country was quickly shut down, and the Boston Marathon was canceled.

I was heartbroken! Fortunately, having cystic fibrosis has taught me that life will not always go as planned and I have had to learn how to see the positive in every misfortune. Without this marathon and Dr. Uluer, I would have never regained my love for running.

Katie O'Grady holding medals after running Boston Marathon

Yet again, my journey to officially run a marathon had started over. For many months I trained hard. I even got a coach to help me with my training. I was not going to be messing around when the potential to run the rescheduled 125th Boston Marathon came around in October 2021 -- because I would be ready.

On October 11, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach and a spring in my step. Today was the day I had been waiting two years for. I was officially going to run the Boston Marathon! The day was perfect, cloudy but cool with a chance of getting a bit warmer as the day went on. Usually, I would be nervous about the heat, but I trained all summer in 100% humidity and 100-degree heat. I could not be more ready.

A bus brought us out to the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. There was an intense energy buzzing in the air. I could hear the announcer narrating how the professional runners were doing as they were hitting mile 24 of their race. I began walking closer and closer to the starting line -- runners were everywhere, and I could see peeking through each person's stride the picture-perfect yellow starting line.

The reality of thousands of miles ran, heartbreak, and fighting back from sickness was all for this moment right here.

Right before I crossed the starting line, I thought of my team of cystic fibrosis runners. We could be miles apart but together we are one. We have all been through so much during this marathon-training process, let alone battling CF. I was so proud to be out there with them today no matter how we performed.

Finally, my time to start the race arrived. I looked ahead, took one last relaxed breath, and I was off. This marathon would be the biggest thing I had ever accomplished. It felt bigger than me. I was running for my team and other CF warriors less fortunate than me. I finished the Boston Marathon with tears in my eyes and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had officially joined the 1% of marathon runners and I did it with a team of cystic fibrosis warriors!

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Katie is an avid runner and coach who also has cystic fibrosis. Katie recently ran the Boston Marathon with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on a team of nine other CF runners. In 2019, Katie started her own run coaching program called Mission Breathe Again, to coach chronic illness warriors to find health and freedom through running. When Katie is not running or coaching, she is cuddling with her French bulldog, Rex. She also enjoys graphic design and was recently offered a full-time job with Entrinsic Health, which helps cancer patients and is researching advancements in gene modulators to help cystic fibrosis patients. You can find Katie on Instagram or on her website.

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