I got a story for you.
I am a new member of the Sufferfest community. I am very grateful to be here. After three tries, I got the “ok” on my Full Frontal test, and I’m now on the 2nd week of the All Around 12 week training plan. I added Yoga and Mental Toughness.
The mental toughness program tells me to socialize my goal. So, here it is:
I’m going to bust my ass to the top of the Passo di Stelvio from Bormio in under 1 hour, 45 minutes.
If you want to know why or just feel like reading a lot more words, this is why.
I have history with the Stelvio. In the Summer of 2010 I took a trip with two friends to cycle some of the iconic climbs of the Giro - the Stelvio, both ways up in a day and the Mortirolo + Gavia in a day. There were others, but those were the big ones. I got a personal trainer to help get me prepared. I put in the work but improvement was minimal. I thought it because I was old or stressed or not putting in enough effort.
I arrived in Bormio eager to tackle the Stelvio. The day of suffering was a short-lived shit-show. I only got a couple of miles up the road before I had to tell my friends to go ahead. I tried to keep going but something felt really wrong. I was getting dizzy, feeling light-headed, couldn’t find a pace for sustained effort. So, I turned back and sat in my hotel room trying to understand what was happening. I decided it was an acclimation problem that would be better the next day. I told myself: this will be hard; you will suffer; but you are going to do it. I set out the next day to do it.
That day was the maximum amount of physical and mental suffering I had experienced in my life up to that point. I was at full maximum effort. I was gasping for air, blacking out, dizzy and light-headed on all the ups. My body was yelling at me, something is wrong. But I was in grind mode. I was not kind to myself. I was not compassionate with myself. I said I was going to do it. No negotiation. Later that week, I rode the Mortirolo + Gavia. Same experience. Something was definitely wrong with me.
It took a full year plus a few months after returning from that trip to learn what was wrong with me. I learned I had a fatal, progressive lung disease that was turning my lungs into scar tissue. That’s why I couldn’t breathe. It’s called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. At the time of diagnosis, you are given 3 to 5 years. No one gets better, and no one survives. It was a death sentence. The reason I was in such bad shape on the climb was that my disease restricts the ability of my lungs to oxygenate my blood. Two things exacerbate that problem: physical exertion and elevation. Two things you will absolutely encounter on the Stelvio.
My disease continued to get worse. Slowly, then rapidly. Ultimately I needed to be on machines to breathe. I tried to maintain an exercise program on rollers and a rowing machine. I could spin at little to no resistance while taking in 10 liters/minute of continuous flow of oxygen. I accepted my death. I grieved my own death. I have a beautiful wife and three precious children. Dying is an unmistakable feeling. And it sucks.
The only thing that would save my life is a transplant. But it’s not a cure. 50% of lung transplant recipients are dead in 6 years post-transplant. In 2019 I was put on the transplant list at University of Washington in Seattle. I received a double lung transplant on 14 February 2020. Receiving a lung transplant in what was then the epicenter of the Covid pandemic is a whole other story in itself. But I’m here. I’m alive. I feel great. I am just so damn happy to be alive and breathing. And my heart is overflowing with love for life.
I am able to push myself again. It brings me immeasurable joy and happiness. Suffering of this kind is a privilege. It is a blessing that tells me I am alive.
So I have to go back to the Stelvio. I have to do it right. I have to do it with love for my donor. I have to do it because I need to heal from that day. I need to suffer through it not because I’m dying but because I am alive.
That’s why. Thank you for reading this far.