Racing against your own story: From undergoing double lung transplant to running marathons

David Crosby with wife Katie and their kids, Kiera , age 12, Daragh , age 10, Erin, age 8.

Despite his active youth, non-smoker David Crosbie needed a double lung transplant. It inspired him to start running marathons, writes Fergus O’Donoghue

"Failure is not an option.”

That’s the motto of David Crosby, a double lung transplant recipient, who’s getting ready to run the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon on June 2.

David was born at Meath Hill in Co Meath in 1975, the oldest of five born to Kathleen and Eugene Crosby. He was an active boy: he played soccer, Gaelic and basketball, never smoked, and played for Meath in the 1993 All-Ireland Minor Championship final.

Late August 2015, David developed a dry cough. He was sent for an x-ray of his lungs and a biopsy at the Mater Hospital. The worst happened, and David was diagnosed with IPF: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.

IPF is one of the rarest of more than 200 types of pulmonary disease. It is also one of the deadliest, with no known cure. Tissue around air sacs in the lungs becomes scarred and tight. Though inactivity, smoking, or genetic factors seem to contribute to most cases, the ultimate cause of the illness remains unknown.

David’s first two siblings, Regina and Paul, both fell sick within 10 days of being born. Regina died at seven months, while Paul died at two years’ old. Both siblings were the victims of lung disease, which doctors at the time said had no obvious connection.

A book titled Too Many Angels was published in 2002 by the Crosby family. It was the memories of David’s other brother, Ciáran Crosby, who started writing the book at 11 years of age. Ciaran died of lung problems in 1997, five months after starting to write it. The proceeds went to charities and hospitals. David’s sister Ann Marie was born in 1982 — she is the only sibling to have not developed a lung disease.

David worked to get fit. He dropped two and a half stone in two months and brought regular exercise back into his life at the age of 40. It was not enough, however, and within four weeks of diagnosis, he was put on 24-hour oxygen.

“I went to sleep with it. Everywhere I went there was oxygen,” David said. “I used to go to Mass with the oxygen tank in a backpack. I wanted to normalise it, not be backed into a corner by it. At first, my friends found it weird, sitting in my local pub drinking minerals with a bag with a gas tank in it and a tube around my face. Pretty soon they got used to it, started kinking the tubes to cut off the oxygen.

“It wasn’t going to change me; I was going to change it.”

Seven months after diagnosis and one false start later, David was sent to the Mater Hospital for a double lung transplant.

The operation a success, and David spent time in the high dependency ward. One busy day, David’s cousin snuck in. Expressing his shock at the intensity of working in the medical practice in Ireland, he told David he would be running the Dublin Marathon to fundraise for them.

“I said: ‘That’s a great idea, maybe I’ll do it with you’.

“My training would have been very different from other people, with all the medications,” David explained. His white blood cells were compromised — scars, sickness, or even a cold would take much longer to heal and pose a serious threat to his health.

That’s why in November 2017 he took a team of family, friends, and health professionals with him to run the New York City Marathon.

David in action — he is running in a relay team in the ‘Irish Examiner’ Cork City Marathon on June 2.

After having trained in his hometown of Kingscourt, Co Cavan twice a week, every week, for almost a year, with sometimes up to 110 people, the Meath man decided to run in the “magical” city from his past.

“I wasn’t into marathons before this, but now that I am, it’s special… It’s about the people… You’re racing against your own story,” he said.

“The donor family is in your mind the whole time.”

David ran the New York Marathon with the tricolour on his back in six hours, 15 minutes and 31 seconds, breaking the record for an Irish organ transplant recipient by 40 minutes. Between that and three runs in Ireland, he has raised €60,700.

“I didn’t think I could push it as much as I did… It felt great. It was the best adrenaline rush in my life.”

The born-again athlete decided that New York would just be the beginning. The next year he ran Berlin and this year he is preparing to run in London on April 28.

“When I did eventually slow down after New York, it was very hard to get back into it because I knew what was going to happen with the training,” David said.

Despite having torn the cartilage in his knee in the Berlin marathon, David is determined to run in London, and insists that something so small will not hold him back. A team of 12 was with him in Berlin, and this year it will be a team of 30 in London.

And David and his wife are looking forward to joining the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon on June 2 this year in the Team Relay with a team of five, where he will be finishing the fifth and final leg for 4.6 miles with friends from the medical profession.

“It’s who I would have seen as I was going through the transplant,” he said, describing the relay legs order in his team. “It’s the story of how you do a transplant really, and the result would be me.”

“Cork is a lovely, beautiful city with very warm and welcoming people, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll spend a couple of days there, bring the kids around to soak in the sights,” he said.

“I would hope when we come to the finish line we could all jump in and cross it together, like you see in the movies,” he added with a laugh.

David hopes to run the six major marathons of New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Until then he will continue training and running to fundraise for IPF research, through his page give.everydayhero.com/ie/the-greatness-within-1.

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