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Mike on strength of body and mind

In this episode of the CFStrong Podcast we speak with Mike about how exercise and bodybuilding have helped him both physically and mentally.

A man leaning on a wall and looking upwards. He has a necklace and tattoo sleeves on his arms.

“For me, it became a passion. After only six months to a year of doing it, when I was about 16 years old, it became almost an obsession, I would say. And the benefits were just so massive that it was, it was so easy to maintain, and to keep doing it, you know. When I started training, when I was 15, I weighed 44 kilos. And by the time I was 19, I weighed 88 kilos. That’s the heaviest that I ever weighed when I was bodybuilding. The change in that period in those four years was dramatic, really dramatic, just in so many ways, it was unbelievably helpful. And literally had I not done that I wouldn’t even be here. Bodybuilding literally saved my life.”



Deidre Gorrie: Hi everyone, and welcome to the CF Strong Podcast. My name is Deidre Gorrie, and I am the Programs and Support Services Manager for Cystic Fibrosis Community Care in New South Wales. I am in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to chat with some of the most amazing adults living with cystic fibrosis from around Australia for the CF Strong Podcast series. The CF Strong Podcast series covers a broad range of topics, including the challenges and successes of those living with cystic fibrosis, where you will hear real firsthand experiences and stories. 


Deidre: Hi everyone. Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Mike to the CF Strong Podcast series. Mike, would you like to tell our audience a little bit about yourself, please? 

Mike: Hi guys. My name is Mike I’m 36 years old. Obviously, an adult living with cystic fibrosis in Western Australia. I’m originally from New Zealand, I’ve been here for about 13 years now though so Aussie-ish, I guess. Yeah, I just you know, I thought I’d do this today with Deidre in the hopes that what I can share through my experience can help as many people as possible. 

Deidre: Ah, fantastic. Well, thank you, Mike. We really are grateful that you’re sharing your time and your experience with us. Today we thought we’d talk around the topic of strength of mind and body and what does that really mean? And Mike has had quite the experiences, and I think that’s an understatement in saying that, but I would really like to, with your help, Mike unpack what this means. So how old were you when you first realised the importance and the significance that exercise can play on your life, Mike? 

Mike: I was 15. So, when I was 15 years old, I was a very typical male with CF at that age, I was deathly skinny. I didn’t do any exercise. I struggled to eat. Basically, things kind of went wrong a little bit that year. I ended up in hospital for a very, very long period and as a result of that, I ended up with a nasal gastric feeding tube for about eight months just because I was just so small and struggling to put on weight as we do. On the back of that so after that eight months of having the nasal gastric tube, and I just decided that I wanted to try and do something to bid in my situation, so I joined my local gym and started training. 

Deidre: And what came out to joining your gym and starting training? Like, did you start to notice anything physically or mentally? 

Mike: Definitely, definitely both. I was very, very fortunate. I went to the gym and I’d never done any form of training before, so I was pretty green and I’d been there for a little while, a few weeks, maybe with little help from the trainers, kind of guiding me as to do this and do that kind of thing. I met this guy who was an ex-body builder and he was probably about the same age as I am now. He was probably about mid-thirties and a giant man. He was about 130 kilos. 

Deidre: Wow. 

Mike: And it was inspiring to me because I thought, wow, I’d love to be like that. We got chatting and I basically said, “well, I want to look like you.” And he said, “okay.” He took me under his wing and that’s kind of where the whole body building journey kind of started for me. 

Deidre: Yeah right. Ok, so you had have this—would you say that that was like the turning point that prompted you to be more active or that was in the lead up to it? 

Mike: Definitely the turning point. I guess to get back to what the original question, what you said earlier, was it changed everything only, probably after about even three or six months, there was a dramatic change in my strength, my fitness, my overall ability, and what came with that obviously was a lot more confidence, a lot more belief in self. self-esteem. Yeah, helped immensely. 

Deidre: Fantastic. Have you maintained your level of exercise consistently, has there been ebbs and flows depending on what’s happening for you? 

Mike: As much as I possibly could. So I don’t like the word journey. I never used that word when I refer to it, but when I refer to my transplant, I refer to it as my story, because to me journey implies, it has positive kind of connotations and my transplant was a nightmare, really. Yes, the answer was, yes, I did as much as I possibly could, but obviously once, pre-transplant I only went as far as I could possibly go. Then you get to a point where your lung function is too low, and I couldn’t maintain a level of exercise anymore. 

And then post-transplant, I had to do a lot of physical rehab for a very, very, very long time. It’s literally taken me to this point now, which is six and a half years post lung transplant to get back to body building again. 

Deidre: You went back to body building post-transplant because you’d done a pre-transplant and you saw the benefits that it could have? 

Mike: Yes, absolutely. For me it became a passion after only six months to a year of doing it when I was about 16 years old, it became almost an obsession I would say. The benefits were just so massive that it was so easy to maintain and to keep doing it. You know, when I started training, when I was 15, I weighed 44 kilos and by the time I was 19, I weighed 88 kilos. That’s heaviest that I ever weighed when I was body building. 

Deidre: Wow.  

Mike: The change in that period in those four years was dramatic. Really dramatic just in so many ways. It was unbelievably helpful and literally had I not done that I wouldn’t even be able to be here. Body building literally saved my life. 


Short music break 


Deidre: Just in terms of that strength of mind, so you’ve got this really amazing physical strength and you’ve experienced that. So just hearing you talk about what it was like pre-transplant as opposed to what it’s been like post that strength of mind that you’ve also had and how you’ve picked that up through doing the physical strength. Does that sound fair in terms of the physical, like the bodybuilding has helped in terms of mental strength as well? 

Mike: Absolutely. It definitely, in terms of the mental side of things that definitely and flowed, it took its toll my transplant big time. As I said to you, last time we spoke, I spent nearly a whole year in hospital. On the back of that once I woke up after my transplant in ICU, I was completely paralysed. I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t even move my fingers on my toes. It was literally a case of start again from complete scratch. And I did, it just took a very, very long time and unfortunately, a few years into that process, I then had to have a kidney transplant, which set things back pretty dramatically. But I guess I’ve always been of the mind, you just got to do it. You know, it’s sometimes all CF people they experience tremendous hardship and have to go through things which are pretty horrible. You just got to believe that you can get through it and that there’s you know going to be a brighter future on the other side, once you have got through those challenges.  

Deidre: A lot has happened in terms of what you’ve experienced and how you’ve managed to get through things. How did you pick up the body building post-transplant and make that part of your routine in addition to what was going on from a CF and post-transplant requirement? 

Mike: Well, it took a long time, like I said, so immediately post lung transplant when I was discharged from hospital when I got home, I was still unable to do virtually everything. I couldn’t walk. My mobility was almost pretty much zero. I needed complete round the clock care. From that point it took about three and a half years of obviously not body building, just physical rehab to get back to a point where I reached some sort of normality again. 

Then, unfortunately, like I said, I just got to the point where it felt like I was turning a bit of a corner and then my kidneys failed and I had to go on dialysis for a year. But post that experience, after now being nearly two and a half years post kidney transplant so about six months ago, well, more than that, sorry. More like a year and a half ago, I started trying to train a bit more seriously again, like I had in the past, like bodybuilding kind of style and I was struggling for quite a while with it. 

Then about six months ago, I just made the decision to really just start to push harder and push my body more than I have for a long time. And yeah, the last six months have just been great. I’ve been right back into my bodybuilding. Again, as it did, when I was in my teens, it’s made me feel immensely better physically, mentally every aspect. 

Deidre: What would you say has been, in the amount of time and the length you’ve been doing bodybuilding and really aware of exercise, what would be one of the highlights that you’ve physically had? 

Mike: Probably a couple of things. Definitely the highlight would’ve been when I was bodybuilding years ago, pre-transplant I bench pressed a hundred kilos when I weighed about 80 kilos. So that was a pretty massive milestone and something that I never thought that I’d be able to achieve. But fast forward to now, it being a little bit more relevant I would say, the things that I’m doing now, I didn’t think that I’d ever achieve. 

It’s still got a long way to go and I’m working on it, but I’m now benching 80 kilos and doing 120 kg deadlifts. When I started back at the gym close to two years ago, after my kidney transplant, I couldn’t even bench press the bar. I couldn’t even deadlift the bar either. You just got to work really hard and just stick at it. Don’t give up that’s, I think a lot of CF’s have that inner strength to just not give up because we’ve got so much to deal with and there’s so much thrown at us from such a young age. 


Short music break 


Deidre: Do you find that having goals helps? So, if you’ve got that thing that you’re chipping away at and you’re working towards, is that something that has helped you? 

Mike: Yes and no. I’ll explain. I’ve never really been a goal setter, as in I want achieve this or I want to achieve that. What I do when it comes to my training, which I believe is essential to reaching any goals that you may have is keeping a very detailed diary or log of everything you do. I’ve done that forever ever since I started bodybuilding. It’s so powerful because you go in one morning to train and you look at what you did the week before, and you just make small incremental changes and put the weights up slowly, but surely and slowly, but surely you get stronger and bigger and better and faster. 

Deidre: Great. And it’s tracking because you can see it. You not only, you can see it in written format, but you can see it and feel it physically. 

Mike: Yes, definitely. 

Deidre: How, so you physically working at your strength, what have you been doing, is there anything additional that you’ve done to help on your mental strength? 

Mike: Nothing specifically in terms of your typical kind of like meditation or anything like that. For me, personally, my escape and what’s helped me mentally get through so much is music.  I think it’s just a universal healer. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like or what you enjoy listening to, music it’s a universal healer and it has been so much so for me. 

Deidre: Perfect. Do you have any advice for anyone that might be listening to this around, so they really want to start exercising or they know that they’ve got their clinic team saying that they should start exercising. Do you have any advice on just taking that first step and what they can do to help themselves? 

Mike: Definitely, I guess the main thing is just to take it one step at a time and take it slowly. Like I said and the same goes when I first started bodybuilding, when I was 15. I was incredibly weak. I could hardly lift anything, but like I said, you keep a log, and you track your progress. Alongside that, which is just as important, if not more important than the training, is obviously the diet, which is a massive struggle for most people with CF and it was for me. Bluntly, the way that I got through it was I just started doing the training and I was training for a little while. Then, like I said, once that guy had taken me under his wing, he was kind of like you need to be eating this, you need to be doing that. 

I kind of took a bit of his advice and then I went to a nutritionist as well and said, “I want to bulk up, I want to get stronger, blah, blah, blah.” She gave me this program, this diet to follow. It was literally about 10 times what I ate in the day at the time. Like I said, bluntly, I just forced myself.  It took quite a while for probably about the first two to three months, I was vomiting regularly because my body wasn’t used to the volume of food that I was trying to put in it. 

But just like the persistence with the physical side of it, with the actual training, with the diet, it came right. It took about two to three months and then I started building momentum after that and I got used to it and I started being able to eat a lot more. I guess my advice is just don’t ever give up just persistence is key and just take it one step at a time, even if you can only eat 5% more than the day before, that’s still progress. Track all that progress as well. Eventually, you’ll be where you want to be. 

Deidre: Before we go today, is there any final words or anything that you’d love to impart with our listeners? It can be about anything at all. 

Mike: Well, I guess keeping with the topic exercise, I think exercise coupled with a good diet is as important and it certainly was in my case as physio, nebulizers, tablets, all of that stuff. It was as important and as valuable to me and proved to be invaluable down the line as all of my treatments. And that’s how I treated it. I got to a point where not only was the body building an obsession and something that I loved, but I saw it as a tool to keep me as well as I could possibly be. 

And it certainly did. Without it, like I said, without that, I got told that when I had my transplant, because when I went into my transplant, when I went into that one-year period in hospital, I was still about 85 something odd kilos. If I hadn’t had those reserves, had I not put all those hard years in of training and eating, there’s no way I would’ve made it through that. So never underestimate the importance of exercising and maintaining a healthy diet, as well as doing everything you need to do from a clinical point of view. 

Deidre: Exercise is part of that. That message is coming through loud and clear that exercise is definitely part of the routine and the structure of what your every day looks like. Would that be fair every day, in addition, to nebulize treatments and creon. 

Mike: Definitely. Again, that helped me as well in terms of routine, it helped me maintain a steady routine. You know, when there is so much in a CF person’s life that is out of your control, that was something that I could do that I could control that I had some power over, which was also extremely empowering. You know, there’s so much that happens and there’s so many hurdles that you have to overcome that are out to your control and you can’t do anything about, but there are things that you can. For me, again, that was really powerful and helped me immensely. 

Deidre: Thank you so much, Mike, and thank you to everyone for listening. As always, if anyone has any questions or would like to contribute the CF Strong resources, they are most welcome to. Mike, I will bid you adieu, and I will talk to you again very soon. 

Mike: Thank you very much. 

Deidre: Thanks Mike. Bye, everyone. 


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Also, a quick reminder that the views expressed in the CF Strong Podcast may not be reflective of Cystic Fibrosis Community Care’s viewpoints. The podcasts are designed to share information and provide insight into the lives of those living with cystic fibrosis around Australia.  

This podcast was made possible thanks to support provided by the Australian Government and was produced by CF Community Care and CF Western Australia. Our theme music is Spark Of Inspiration by Shane Ivers from Silverman Sound. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next time. 

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