“You have to be somewhat crazy to try a triathlon. To try a triathlon with COPD, you’re just out of your mind.”
Out of his mind? Perhaps. I’ll stick with saying that health activist John Cummings is just admirably motivated to prove to others COPD is no reason to hold back.
“I tell all of the new COPD people I meet that it’s not a death sentence. Your disease management is a huge part of how well you respond,” John explains.
Although John struggled with respiratory issues since high school, he never let it disrupt his passion for athletics and his competitive nature. John was named an All-Star to the yearly Lions All-Star High School Football Classic in 1984 and was a top California discus and shot put thrower. It was not until he was training as a decathlete at UC Santa Barbara when he realized his numerous respiratory infections were impacting his training. Unfortunately, he faced the challenging realization that he was not healthy enough to continue training.
He took this time to learn more about his condition and began following stricter regimens. By 2003 he found himself ready to train again, participating in 5k’s and a triathlon. Sadly, with any condition, where there are highs there are lows, and in 2013 he began to notice his workouts becoming more difficult and breathing becoming more of a challenge. John’s next year consisted of hospital stays, sleep apnea, respiratory failure and discouragement.
At this point, most of us would call it quits, but John is back to training for yet another triathlon, cycling races and more endurance events (Healthy or not- you have to be out of your mind for all of this!) John is making it clear he is committed, sharing “Just this past year, I’ve returned all of my oxygen equipment to the hospital and I’ve changed my career to accommodate my health.” In doing so, John is certainty showing fellow patients and caregivers that you can in fact live out your passion and be active, despite living with COPD.
He is already helping so many newly diagnosed COPD patients. Using Instagram, John is able to answer all the basic questions these individuals have giving them some sense of peace. “It’s like walking out of the doctor’s office and meeting someone in the elevator who has the same diagnosis as you. It makes you feel like everything will be okay. At the least, it makes you feel like you can manage your life.” Surprisingly, health activism wasn’t something John really imagined he’d being doing.
After suffering from COPD for 25 years, specifically bronchiectasis, John decided to start to speaking about his condition. “Advocating for COPD helps me overcome the challenges of the disease. Advocacy gives me meaning, it gives me purpose.”
John says he lives by the words of Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and civil rights leader, who said “As I give, I get”. John acknowledges her words, believing “It is through my giving nature that I actually feel stronger and more healthy.”
As if he wasn’t inspirational enough, John will be riding in a bicycling event as part of the COPD World team in France on September 4th. So everyone- head over to his website, follow him on twitter and stay up to date on his Facebook page because this is one event, and one activist, you won’t want to miss!
Kristen Long is the Health Activist Awards Coordinator at WEGO Health. Her own health experiences have inspired her to empower other patients and encourage the power of patient advocacy. Follow Kristen on Twitter and Facebook.