Monday, 23 June 2014

Extracts from a Short and Merry Life - Part One: Sport & Fitness

Earlier this month, Tim Wotton published his memoir of living with cystic fibrosis, 'How Have I Cheated Death? A Short and Merry Life with Cystic Fibrosis'. In the run up to his book signing event this Saturday 28 June at Waterstones Wimbledon, we'll be publishing three extracts from the book focusing on three themes. The first of which, is the role of sport and exercise:

Without a shadow of a doubt, a large part of my longevity in my battle to defy CF can be credited to the amount of sport I have played throughout my life; mainly hockey, basketball, tennis, rugby, football and cricket.

In my experience, I have found that regular exercise has become a necessity to keep my lungs ‘tuned’ and it impacts me both physically and mentally. I strongly believe that any activity that exercises the lungs of someone with CF is hugely beneficial.

Exercise is not actually straight forward for most CF sufferers as the build-up of mucous in the lungs means that less oxygen is available which causes problems with breathing and general fitness. It is also an extremely exhausting condition – just think how tiring it is to cough for five minutes non-stop. I find it quite literally knocks the wind out of my sails.

For me, still playing sport, running and competing is the best barometer for how my health is. It also serves as an indication for others, not least my dad, to know that if I’m still able to play, that CF can’t be winning the battle. Indeed, my dad will always ask “How’s your wobble son?” and most old friends tend to lead conversations with “Are you still playing hockey?”
At times, I feel the weight of their hope and expectations on my shoulders. What would they think should I ever reply: “Actually, I’ve had to pack it in as it became too much for me!”

I play on for my own health but also for the positive lift it gives to others. I now feel a tremendous sense of elation on completing any sport as it feels like ‘my Everest’ moment. It’s hard and I do have to get pretty psyched up these days before most exercise. It’s still important for me to compete against relatively healthy and fit people as it serves as my health benchmark.
My lungs do definitely benefit from exercise, even small jogs and I feel more vibrant and alive afterwards. I wouldn’t say the exercise is always enjoyable, but the rewards and positive sensation drive me on. It’s only after I’ve pushed myself during a hockey or tennis match that I feel really ‘alive’. I have had to consistently find the motivation to keep going with my hockey. Few 39 year olds I know are still partaking in competitive sport and they all have their reasons not to – it’s easier not to be active once you have a busy work and family life. Some people need a goal to get running again – something to aim for, like a 10K charity run, marathon or triathlon. I have my hockey.

I am desperate to still be playing sport at 40. Fighting CF gives me the encouragement that few can harness. It’s more than feeling that I have to do exercise, it’s lighting my own internal touch paper to force myself to ‘want’ to do it, which creates my own intrinsic motivation. I focus on both the mental and physical aspects of this desire. Physically, I think what’s more of a benefit to me – running (and enduring a short-term discomfort) or not running (and letting the effects of CF build up). Mentally, exercise is my two finger salute to CF, defiantly declaring “I won’t be beaten. I can do this. I will do this. Just watch me!” 
It’s a simple equation for me to keep playing sport. If I exercise and keep as fit as possible, it’s likely that I will stay one step ahead of the grim reaper. In fact, I would go as far as stating that it’s a matter of my life or death.

Tim will be signing copies of his book at Waterstones in Wimbledon from 6:30-8:00pm this Saturday. You can purchase 'How Have I Cheated Death? A Short and Merry Life with Cystic Fibrosis' from Austin Macauley and Amazon, as well as WH Smith, Waterstones and Foyles.


  1. Admire your determination and as the grandmother of a CF child, appreciate the tips we get from your blogs Good Luck xx

  2. You are an inspiration to others with CF.

  3. Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad my writing is helping others... Cheers Tim