The 100+ Project
I couldn’t breathe!
Something most people take for granted I struggled with day in and day out. Every breath required a conscious effort. It went a little like this, breathe in, breathe out, repeat.
The year was 1997, Bill Clinton was president, “MMMBop” by Hanson was rising up the pop charts, and I
was diagnosed with Asthma.
During my initial phase of suffering, asthma never crossed my mind. The only thing I “knew” about asthma was that the nerdiest kids in the schoolyard were the only ones afflicted. I was 26 years old. I did know that the source of my suffering was my roommate’s cat. I had been allergic to cats for a long time and quickly figured out what was stealing my breath. Still thinking I was dealing with a really bad allergic reaction I tried everything I could think of to get some relief (except go to the doctor). I popped antihistamines like Skittles, and inhaled steam from a boiling pot with a towel over my head, and many other useless attempts that all had one thing in common: they didn’t relieve asthma symptoms!
The straw that finally broke the wheezing camel’s back was when it got so bad I couldn’t sleep. After being in bed for hours I would eventually fall asleep. But remember, when I said every breath required a conscious effort, I wasn’t kidding. After I fell asleep I would stop breathing and wake up. It went a little something like this, fall asleep, stop breathing, wake up, repeat. Clearly not the recipe for feeling fresh in the morning.
When I finally went to the doctor, he listened to my lungs and I told him my story and he said, “Sgt. Albert, you have asthma.” Did I mention I was in the Army at the time? Well I was. Feel free to wish me a happy Veteran’s Day. What he said to me next was very sobering. He said, “You could die from this.”
Say what? How did all those nerdy kids in the schoolyard survive if asthma was such a serious condition? Apparently I was ignorant of all things asthma. Once it was spelled out to me in the simplest of manners it made pretty good sense. Not being able to breathe is a pretty good way to die. It was so simple I just couldn’t see it.
After my diagnosis my roommate got rid of the cat and eventually I got back to normal lung function. Things were going good until I came home one day and saw a litter box in the kitchen. Filled with a complex cocktail of emotions—chief of which were fear and anger—I immediately went to my room and put a towel at the bottom of the door to keep the dander out. The next morning I packed up all my things and left. There was no way I could go through that again, not even with a proper diagnosis and medication. Not then, not now, not ever. I suspect my roommate’s wife wanted me to move out and attempting to kill me in the most passive-aggressive way imaginable was way easier than confrontation. Mission
accomplished (the terrorists have won?).
Since those horrible horrible days in North Carolina, I have been relatively symptom free. I stay away from cats whenever possible which has been 99% of the time. I am careful to figure out which of friends own cats so I know not to go to their houses. It requires a bit of work but it beats looking forward to an evening with friends only to find out I have to leave before I have an attack. I have been symptom free enough that I enjoy endurance sports, running, cycling, paddling, adventure racing, you name it. All sports that require some serious lung function, the very thing that asthma takes from people.
Fast forward to a little over a year ago.
After a disappointing race, I was at a really low point thinking about giving up racing and finding something else to occupy my time. I was adrift at sea (or the in the river) with no direction. Somehow I found out about this guy from the UK who was stand up paddleboarding down the entire length of the Mississippi.
What a great adventure! I was intrigued. This wasn’t even his first adventure. He had skateboarded across Australia and ridden a tandem bike from Vancouver to Las Vegas. Since I live about 20 miles outside of St. Louis I decided I had to meet this guy as he paddled down the river. We exchanged emails and arranged a time and place to meet and I would join him for a day on the river. Waiting at the arranged location I had no idea what was in store for me. Eventually he paddled over to the river bank where I was waiting and offered me some crisps. That was how I met Dave Cornthwaite. The direction of my life was about to change. In a good way.
Dave seemed very happy and full of life and I wanted to feel the same way. I won’t go into his story, you can read that for yourself, but his solution wasn’t going to work for me. You see Mr. Cornthwaite raises money for charity while out on these adventures and I thought maybe , just maybe I could do something of the same sort, only on a smaller scale. There were quite a few adventures that I had been putting off because that is what I was conditioned to do, go to work and put off all the things I always said I wanted to do. Well no more! Adventure awaited and I was eager to get started. That’s the nutshell version of how I came up with the idea for the 100+Project. One hundred or more miles each time on a different
form of transport.
The decision of what organization to benefit was easy once I actually sat down and thought for a moment. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter does really great work in the community to improve the lives of allergy and asthma sufferers. I was nervous that they would tell me to get lost, but the Foundation was very happy that I wanted to do something to help. While asthma and allergies don’t have the fundraising clout of cancer and wounded warriors, it is a cause that I can identify with because I know what the sufferers are going through first hand and believe me it is no picnic.
Not everyone who suffers from asthma and allergies is fortunate enough to be able to stay away from their triggers like I am. Imagine what it must be like for a kid in the lunchroom not knowing if today would be the day that he accidentally came into contact with some peanut dust. Anaphylactic shock can be hard on your social status, not to mention life threatening (the double whammy for any school-aged kid). AAFASTL helps children and young adults (up to the age of 22) who are uninsured or underinsured receive medication, treatment and supplies to manage their conditions. They also provide training for school nurses so they will know how to handle an allergic reaction or asthma attack. Those are just two examples of the great things they are doing in the community to make people’s lives better.
So far the 100+Project has raised close to one thousand dollars over three different journeys. I have skateboarded 107 miles, cycled 241 miles, and kayaked 340 miles. Not being a natural fundraiser or self promoter, I am always looking to learn more ways to achieve these goals. Always coming up with ideas for adventures, it is hard not to keep one upping myself. Next year I have a really long run on the schedule, a long trip down the Illinois river by canoe, and a long walk on the Ozark trail. During all these adventures I try to keep focused on one thing, all the people that the Foundation helps.
Asthma and allergy sufferers want the same thing everyone wants, to live a life without limits, and that is what the Asthma and Allergy Foundation strives to help them achieve.
Patrick Albert is a part time adventurer and sometime fundraiser and founder of the 100+Project. His blog Trail and Error chronicles all of the adventures not related to his fundraising efforts. When Patrick is not behind the keyboard he can be found out on the trail, or the river gearing up for the next big adventure.