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Running on Thin Air 

Interview with cystic fibrosis warrior, van life, traveling runner. 

Running with Cystic Fibrosis wasn’t always an option until modern medicine intervened and gave Stephi a new lease on life. 

running on thin air, blog banner, blue blog banner, idaph events, frostbite 5k, Cystic Fibrosis

Stephi spent her entire life holding back but not by choice.  Her lungs functioning at only 30-40% had been slowly failing her due to cystic fibrosis. 

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body. Instead of the secretions acting as lubricants, they become sticky and plug up tubes, ducts and passageways, especially in the lungs and pancreas. 

Stephi had already lost her mom to cancer, who also carried the CF gene…the road has been anything but easy. So how did she find the hope or motivation to keep going despite living with something that can be as life-threatening as CF? With the help of modern medicine and the power of a resilient spirit. 

After years of enduring IV antibiotics and barely being able to breathe or talk, by the time she was 26 years old there was finally a drug released for CF which has allowed her to run free. Read her story below and find hope through her words. 

When did you first think about doing a 5k?

SL: I first thought about doing a 5k after following another girl, Katie, with CF on Instagram, and seeing her post about running 5k’s and marathons. Her posts were very motivating and inspired me to give it a try. 

Why did you think it was possible to actually do a 5k given your lifelong CF diagnosis?

SL: I thought it would be possible to do a 5k now because of how much my health has improved in the last couple years, thanks to a new CF drug called Trikafta. Prior to the drug, my lung function was around 40%. Today, it’s in the mid-80% range! I wanted to try a 5k to push my own limits and see what my new healthy lungs were capable of.

I am capable quote, Stephi Lee, Running with cystic fibrosis

What did you learn the most when doing your first 5k?

SL: I learned that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible. My physical body was finally strong enough to run, for once in my life, but my mind gave me the biggest challenge. I had to push through my doubts and ignore the negative voices in my head telling me to give up. Making it across the finish line showed me that I CAN do it, and inspired me to keep doing as much as I can.

What did you do differently prepping for the Frostbite 5k than the Turkey Trot?

SL: I prepared for the Turkey Trot and the Frostbite 5k in exactly the same way… by not practicing running at all. Haha. Both were a bit of a last minute decision. I’ve been doing daily exercise on my Peloton bike since the summer, which I’m sure helped with the cardio parts of it.

frostbite 5k, stephi lee, penguin medal, cystic fibrosis, running with cystic fibrosis

What goal do you have for yourself this year with running?

SL: This year I would really like to practice running, so I can do better in 5k’s going forward. I’m trying to get into a routine of running every day, even if it’s just a short distance. Eventually I would love to do a half-marathon or full marathon! I love 5k’s but I am the type of person that loves to push my limits. So I’m sure there will be many 10k’s, half-marathons, and full marathons in the future! To avoid injuring myself, I will be slowly working up to longer distances.

What do you feel like is the best part of running for you?

SL: The best part of running for me is the endorphins I feel after. The “runner’s high” –  it makes me feel like I can accomplish anything, and exercising has helped my mental health tremendously. I lived my whole life not being able to do all the things so now I want to do all the things. 

Why running? Why not another sport to race in?

SL: I love running because you don’t need any equipment, other than some running shoes. It’s accessible anywhere. I also really enjoy cycling, weight lifting, and yoga.

for the people who can't quote, Stephi Lee, Running with cystic fibrosis

If you could give someone advice to keep them going, what would that be?

SL: Do it because you love yourself. And do it for the people who can’t. When I was at my sickest, I would have given the world to be able to run. Now that I can breathe, exercise is all I ever want to do. Simply because I can and it makes me feel strong and happy.

What running shoe do you run in?

SL: I run in some old Nikes I bought probably 8 years ago. I couldn’t tell you the exact name of them, but they’re comfortable and have lasted me a long time!

I hope Stephi’s story brings you an extra dose of motivation like it did me. What some people may see as an everyday norm, like breathing in oxygen without thinking twice, can be a daily challenge or source of worry for others. So, get out there and run on my friends. Use your gifts and talents with the world. Especially for those who can not. The world needs your smile. 

Find Stephi on Instagram here.