Rod Marshdale Breathes New Life Into Ironman Dream

When Rod Marshdale toes the start line of the IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast (26 August) he will continue to defy the odds and using his courage, determination and passion to be one step closer to his ultimate goal of racing a full IRONMAN and inspiring others like him to dream big.

In the 1970’s, when three year old Rod was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, the condition was considered a death sentence and his distraught parents believed their son had a maximum of ten years to live. To give Rod every chance of a normal life his family moved from their small farm outside Yanco, into Leeton in the NSW Riverina where despite his condition he developed a love of being active.

“I regularly did my twice daily treatment for an hour at a time. My mum cooked good healthy food and there was a determination in me. I was fiercely defiant and I wasn’t wrapped up in cotton wool, I used to go hard but I was always very aware of the need for the treatment.”

In his teenage years Rod got three serious chest infections, which meant long, tough and lonely stays in Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.

“I was so scared there, because that was where kids died. I really didn’t cope well, it was too confronting. The first three days there a girl died at 14 from my disease. It was funny there was one kid who came to visit his sister and he was 18, with muscles and hair under his arms and that gave me hope. It is amazing what a little bit of hope does.”

“Growing up is tough enough. Growing up with Cystic Fibrosis, unable to keep up with other kids, extended hospital stays and knowing that you very likely have a limited life expectancy, can cut very deep. I don’t know anyone of my age that I knew from back then and I never planned more than three years ahead.”

“Being told I would be dead by the time I was 25 certainly impacted me but I just kept getting through,” Rod explained very candidly. “I just kept plugging on and got into exercise as my way around the emotional pain. I tried drinking, gambling, religion and all the medication the prescribed but it came down to the reality that I had this disease and that I had to devote so much effort to staying alive and dealing with friends dying. I couldn’t escape the pain so I almost learned to embrace it. If that makes any sense.”

“I got into exercise and it became an avenue for me and that is the reason I got better. That lead to walking on the beach. I have never been able to run because my lungs have always been ratty but there was a salt mist on the beach some evenings and it allowed me to clear the phlegm from my chest. I mentioned this to my specialist and we trialled breathing in different salinities and it helped incredibly. I could do more exercise, so I went from swimming 25 metres, with five minutes rest and then repeating building up to two kilometres. I just kept finding ways and new nutritional benefits.”

In 2015, Rod’s health deteriorated significantly and he was given the gift of a double lung transplant that literally offered him a new lease on life.

“It did get hard a year before the transplant. I couldn’t exercise at all. I was pushed in a wheel chair and had a machine for air in and out at night so I wouldn’t die. Somehow, I made it to 45 and I was quite literally staring death in the face when a miracle happened, the gift of a new pair of lungs. Organ transplant is the ultimate paradox and a family’s ultimate sacrifice. I wanted to make sure that my donor’s death was my new beginning and a chance to make a real difference.”

After the recovering from his transplant operation, Rod wasted no time in putting his new lungs to work.

“Getting up from a transplant is pivotal and I worked on that feverishly. The power of the mind is the key and I see that with the IRONMAN, who are freakish individuals, so I tapped into that too. Taking that full lung of air for the first time is one thing I wish everyone could experience. I thought I wasn’t that sick but I was only getting 600-800 ml of air in my lungs but after the transplant I took my first breath in and I thought I was going to blow the room up. When I got on the ward and they let me walk as much as I could I just had gushes of air and it was phenomenal. I went from 800ml to five litres. Words can’t really describe it.”

Rod just kept getting better and stronger and a year later he competed in the Australian Transplant Games claiming three silver medals in the pool. He then went on the represent Australia at the 2017 World Transplant Games in Spain and returned home with his sights set on a triathlon which he completed in Kingscliff last year. He now has the IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast within his reach and wants to motivate others, especially young people, with life experiences like his.

“I want to do this to encourage and inspire anyone with cystic fibrosis and other potentially life limiting conditions, to believe a long and happy healthy life awaits them if they just believe and commit,” said Rod. “It is not a “normal” life this one with CF but that does not mean it is a “less than” life and it’s anything but ordinary. I have learned to go hard and I love it. I just want to push and see what I am capable of and what gives me a real buzz is helping raise the profile of cystic fibrosis, lung transplant awareness and it even touches on mental health. I love that exercise is the key to all of those.”

“My goal is an IRONMAN but at my age I am not sure I can do it, but it is a journey. I don’t know how I will go in Mooloolaba there is one rejection drug that makes your oxygen slightly out. The fitter I get my immune system is boosting so I have to constantly muck around with that drug. But hey, everyone has their issues in IRONMAN, even the pros, so that is just part of the game for me,” he said.

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