Cystic fibrosis is my superpower

Lisa Bentley shares how a lung disease connected her to new people and gave her life purpose

I have been blessed with so many incredible opportunities.

I have been a high school math teacher, a professional triathlete and now I am a speaker, author and entrepreneur. But regardless of my titles, connection has always been the centre of my success.

Lisa celebrates an IRONMAN winWhen I won my first Ironman triathlon – a 3.8-km swim, 180-km bike ride and 42-km run – I was over the moon. But in 2001, after my second Ironman win, I felt empty. I needed more than trophies and accolades. I needed connection and purpose.

Up until then, I had never spoken about having cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic lung disease that causes an abnormal amount of mucous to accumulate in the lungs. It’s a miracle that I’m an 11-time Ironman Champion while living with an illness that results in chronic lung infections, lung damage, lung transplants and ultimately early death. I didn’t want my CF to create sympathy or a ready-made excuse for poor performance.

But after that second Ironman win, I realized that CF was actually my superpower. After opening up about my illness, every race had meaning. CF connected me to others who needed hope, and that connection became fuel for my success.

During the 2004 Ironman World Championships I was so sick; struggling to breathe and on a heavy regime of antibiotics. But as I prepared, I realized how lucky I was to compete in the biggest triathlon race against the best women in the world. So, I set a new intention: to be the best I could be with CF. I made the decision to love all of myself, including CF.

I finished fourth in the World Championships on a day most people wouldn’t have gotten out of bed. That is the power of the mind, heart and connecting to a purpose greater than yourself. That “win” was deeply rooted in connection.

Since retiring, when I’m finding it a bit tricky to find connection, I am often treated to a note like this in my inbox:

“Our little boy that we adopted is four. We are foster parents and have adopted nine kids with special needs. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Nathan’s future and have been a little down. So, I researched people [with CF] who had reached 40 years of age. I found you. That helps. But it is still an overwhelming disease at times. Thank you so much. Your story has been inspiring for my husband and I.”

I have no doubt that finding your inner power will bring you connection to self, others and a new purpose. When you find that connection, you will win in life.

There is no doubt that I have been blessed with two gifts: the gift of sport and CF. If I can make cystic fibrosis my superpower, then what superpower is lurking in you? I have no doubt that finding your inner power will bring you connection to self, others and a new purpose. When you find that connection, you will win in life.

Be courageous in your pursuit. Finish what you start and do it with heart.