Kate Richards running circles around cystic fibrosis

By: Scott Haddow – Straight Up Sports

 | Dec 06, 2013 - 12:35 PM |
Lo-Ellen Park multi-sport athlete Kate Richards has overcome cystic fibrosis to become a high level runner in cross-country and track. She recently competed in her first OFSAA cross-country championship. Photo by Scott Haddow.

Lo-Ellen Park multi-sport athlete Kate Richards has overcome cystic fibrosis to become a high level runner in cross-country and track. She recently competed in her first OFSAA cross-country championship. Photo by Scott Haddow.

Kate Richards has her good races and bad races in terms of results. 

She has accepted this. It is going to happen no matter how hard she trains or pushes herself during a competition.

Richards, 14, has cystic fibrosis. She was diagnosed at age seven. The disease has not stop her from going after her dreams of being a runner. It wreaks havoc on her day-to-day life, but cystic fibrosis will never stop Richards from doing what she believes she can do.

“I can do anything I want to,” the Grade 9 Lo-Ellen Park student-athlete said.

Richards was brought to see a medical specialist when she was seven because doctors thought she might have asthma. She had been sick a lot before the age of seven, but it got worse and worse and she couldn’t digest food.

It was a big reality check for Richards to be diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It brought a lot of fear into her life — fear Richards has eventually shaken free from to live a life full of promise and realizing her own potential.

“When I was first diagnosed, I was scared,” she said. “ I was really sad because life expectancy is low. I wanted to get rid of it. I can’t hide from it. I stay active and I stay involved. This increases my life expectancy. I’m not scared anymore.”

Richards follows strict daily routines to battle cystic fibrosis and compete in racing events. It is all about loosening mucus buildup in her lungs. Every morning when she wakes up and every night before she goes to bed, Richards does physiotherapy for 20 minutes each time.

She does a percussion on her chest to knock mucus loose. She uses an acapella tube to improve her breathing throughout the day. She also uses a vapourizing unit with a saline solution for 10 minutes, breathing in through a mask to clear her lungs.

Over the course of a day, Richards takes a mixture of 60 vitamin and enzyme pills, including 15 in the morning, to help her digest food and get the nutrients her body requires. Once a year, Richards is hooked up to an IV line which gives her medicine to thin mucus and fight off bacteria.

It is sports that has impacted Richards the most when it comes to dealing with cystic fibrosis. Richards is heavily influenced by her mom, Sarah McIlraith, a competitive long-distance runner who has raced triathlons and half marathons, and her step dad, Neil Phipps, also a runner who has won the local fitness challenge event.

Richards trains six days a week and also competes in track and field and cross-country. Richards is also into hiking and cross-country skiing.

“When I am running, I get more air into my lungs and it makes them work harder and better,” she said. “The air goes deeper into my lungs. It helps me breath better. I don’t notice it much anymore because I do a lot of sports. I will always have mucus to cough up in my lungs … before races, after races and even during races.

“It’s worth it. I know I would be more sick if I didn’t do sports. It gives me something to focus on. I don’t think about having cystic fibrosis when I’m running.”

To say Richards is an inspiration to her school cross-country and track teammates would be an understatement. Richards had a goal since Grade 6 to compete in OFSAA cross-country. She realized the goal early in November when she competed in the girls midget division and placed as Lo-Ellen Park’s best runner from the midget team.

Allison Caswell has been friends with Richards since they were in Grade 1. They are teammates on the Lo-Ellen Park squad. Caswell has seen the fight Richards must endure every day of her life just to put on a pair of running shoes and go training, let alone compete. Caswell is always impressed with the courage Richards demonstrates each day in the face of cystic fibrosis.

There is no better form of motivation.

“I always think about what Kate has to every day and it puts everything in perspective for me,” Caswell said. “I never had it bad. It makes me push myself as hard as Kate does. She is inspiring.”

Richards’ teammates and friends count on her for more than motivation. Richards has a spark in her that makes people gravitate towards her and want to be around her. They are most impressed with her positive attitude towards life despite the obvious difficulties she endures.

“Kate is just a lot of fun to be around,” Kyla Bruni said. “She has a great sense of humour and we are always laughing and having a good time. She is one of those people who is smiling and always happy and it makes you smile and be happy.”

Richards has shown herself to be a dedicated athlete in more ways than one. Through her exploits with the Lo-Ellen Park cross-country team this season, Richards showed coaches and teachers and other athletes how much resolve and will she has to run and compete.

“Kate is resilient, focused, and mature, as one might expect,” Lo-Ellen Park cross-country and track coach Colin Ward said. “She can do more than most, better than most, or is more fit than most, with way more obstacles in her way than most people encounter. Not a lot of people have her level of focus and determination.”

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