You don’t often hear the words triathlete and primary immunodeficiency in the same breath, but if you added the name David to the sentence it would make perfect sense.
Shortly after his CVID diagnosis in 2008 David wanted to tap into something that would allow him the opportunity to “make the best of his life, to feel better.” So he challenged himself to make fitness part of his life by beginning to slowly build up his stamina over time. Since he hadn’t exercised at all in over a decade, delving into the fitness world was a real challenge for David.
At first he found it hard to move even short distances but he kept trying and tracking small improvements, working toward a personal best. He found joy in small successes. If one day he ran 200 feet, he celebrated running 210 the next, and always looked to his wife and young daughter for support and encouragement.
“Life isn’t about winning as
much as it’s about trying.”
As he tells it, when he first started exercising there were times when he “didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.” But he never gave up, and when the opportunity to participate in a race with his wife arose he began focusing on the specific goal of “just being able to be in the race.” When race day arrived, he struggled along. In the final moments he somehow caught up with his wife, and they finished together.
Not everyone with PI is able to be a triathlete, but David thinks it’s important to consider challenging yourself to meet your personal best, whether that be walking the dog to the mailbox once a week or gently stretching on the living room rug. Sometimes doing the thing you think you can’t, or the thing everyone tells you not to, is a motivation in itself.
If you’re wondering why someone with CVID would feel the need to extend a little healthy exercise into an intense triathlon training regimen, try thinking beyond the basic health benefits of exercise and consider the possible positive emotional payoff of seeing even small improvements over time in any aspect of life. Often times, life isn’t about winning as much as it’s about trying.
David explains that once he became “relaxed and comfortable” with his personal best he really hit his stride and started reaping emotional benefits from his efforts that matched the physical transformations. He feels he has gained a sense of control over how he feels about his health by challenging himself with exercise and accepts that he may never be the first finisher at an elite competition; he never set out to be that guy. David just wants to be in the race and to find happiness in knowing that his personal best on any given day is more fulfilling than watching from the sidelines.
Though David’s physical conditioning is exceptional in any arena, as a PI patient he is quick to explain that he never forgets that living with PI means he must listen to his body if it is going to continue to be ready to meet the challenges he craves. He never pushes himself too far—there are limits. He is careful to back off of exercise for a few days if things don’t feel right and he makes time for plenty of deep, restorative sleep.
“They worked hard at developing a treatment plan that would work for him.”
David also works closely with his doctor, Dr. Lin, to ensure he is training safely and being mindful. Together David and Dr. Lin work toward managing David’s PI to ensure his body is healthy enough to participate in vigorous athletic competitions. David says “Dr. Lin is not afraid to tell me when I need to back off a race and she is always there to help me medically.”
Dr. Lin feels that working with PI patients is a process that requires team work and patience. When she first met David he “looked sick, skinny, and pale, and had frequent, recurrent infections.” So they worked hard at developing a treatment plan that would work for him. David’s health eventually stabilized and improved to where he was able to really thrive athletically, though there are still occasional relapses. Due to persistent breakthrough infections David now has weekly subcutaneous immunoglobulin infusions. Dr. Lin supports David’s commitment to fitness and says, “Exercise and a healthy lifestyle play a very supportive role in David’s success, as does his openness in disclosing his medical concerns and needs.”
As David’s health improved under Dr. Lin’s care and his relationship with his medical team grew stronger, David felt empowered to reach out to newly diagnosed PI patients. “It’s great that David is willing to mentor new patients. A PI diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary but David is a great example of how with proper support you can continue to pursue hobbies and passions,” says Dr. Lin.
Some kinds of exercise are not recommended for patients with specific primary immunodeficiencies. Check with your doctor regarding appropriate types of exercise.