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Stephen Bell Headshot

The Meaning of the Marathon

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The countdown has reached single digits. It's officially marathon week in New York City. The excitement, energy, and anticipation are building. TV commercials, newspaper ads, store fronts, signs on buses, lamp posts and billboards emphatically remind everyone that on Sunday the city will welcome some 45,000 athletes for the running of the New York City marathon. Athletes from all over the world. Each with a different background. A different story. A different reason to run the race.

Some run because they want to experience the spirit of the New York City marathon. Some run to honor others. Some run to challenge themselves. Some run because it's a life-long goal of theirs. Some run to overcome -- whether it's coming back from injury, the fact they beat cancer or diabetes or some other condition -- they want to show they are stronger than the hurdles and challenges that face them. And some run just because they love running. That's the beauty of running. That's the beauty of the marathon.

For me, the marathon is a celebration. You see, I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when I was three months old. Cystic Fibrosis is a chronic, progressive disease that affects most critically the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver, and intestines. Most common symptoms include excessive production and accumulation of thick and sticky mucus, chronic and persistent cough, shortness of breath, frequent lung infections requiring hospitalizations or at-home IV medication, as well as the inability to grow or maintain a healthy weight regardless of eating normally. Daily management consists of 1-1.5 hours of inhalation and chest physical therapy as well as pills to help digest food. Antibiotics, IVs and hospitalizations are also common as infections flare up. And although the disease can be managed, there is no cure.

Running is not something I take for granted. I consider running a privilege. Something that I'm grateful for every time I lace up my sneakers and hit the pavement. Running is a time where I forget about Cystic Fibrosis, work, and life. It's a time where I forget about everything and just run, smile and feel free. Running is also a form of treatment. It's a way to push and strengthen and the lungs and body. It's one of the main reasons I'm as healthy as I am today. Without it I don't think I'd be who I am.

I live with a lung disease. A chronic, progressive lung disease. A disease that is supposed to diminish my lungs over time. A disease with a median life-expectancy of 41 years. A disease that is not associated with running marathons. I'm aware of all of that. And that's exactly why I run; to celebrate. I'm 29 years old. My lungs work, my legs work, and there is no better way to celebrate life than going out there and running the New York City marathon.

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