Russell Winwood to tackle Ironman with oxygen tank

CHALLENGE: Russell Winwood, 53, will carry a 2.5 kilogram oxygen supply with him when he takes on the Ironman in Cairns. Photo: Stacey Whitlock
CHALLENGE: Russell Winwood, 53, will carry a 2.5 kilogram oxygen supply with him when he takes on the Ironman in Cairns. Photo: Stacey Whitlock

IN what is believed to be a world-first, Birkdale resident Russell Winwood will take on the ultimate challenge of completing the Cairns Ironman event with his oxygen tank in tow.

Mr Winwood, 53, was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 2011 and now has only 30 per cent lung capacity.

The progressive and irreversible lung condition causes narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe.

"I could have let this disease slowly suffocate the life out of me," Mr Winwood said.

"Instead, I decided to do an Ironman event and then another, and another."

As his condition continues to worsen, Mr Winwood now relies on supplementary oxygen when exercising, but said he would not let it hold him back.

The small business owner is no stranger to the race scene, with three Ironman events and multiple marathons under his belt.

This time, however, he will carry a 2.5 kilogram supply for the cycle and run legs of the event, with eight battery changes along the way.

"For a person with healthy lungs, imagine exercising but only being able to breathe in and out through a straw," Mr Winwood said.

"The effect is like dry drowning, you can't get enough air in and you can't expel enough out.

"My fear has always been once I rely on supplementary oxygen it will end my ability to race.

"Most people think I'm crazy and many can't comprehend how I'm going to do it, but it's been great to see I can still push my limits.

"I'm very different to other disabled athletes who may have lost a limb or been confined to life in a wheelchair.

"My disability doesn't have a category in the (paralympics) or any event because people with my disability don't usually run, cycle or swim."

IRONMAN: Mr Winwood will take part in the Cairns Ironman alongside his son Curtis, who will help with managing his oxygen supply and battery changes.

IRONMAN: Mr Winwood will take part in the Cairns Ironman alongside his son Curtis, who will help with managing his oxygen supply and battery changes.

Mr Winwood hopes to raise $50,000 to support pulmonary rehabilitation programs across the country.

The exercise and education programs support people living with a chronic lung condition to exercise safely and manage breathlessness.

"My hope is (that) my experience will motivate other patients," he said.

"My motto (is) never let your disease define you."

Lung disease affects almost one in three Australians and is responsible for one in seven deaths.

Head of Lung Foundation Australia Mark Brooke said while there was no cure for COPD, early diagnosis and treatment was important to slow the progression of symptoms and help people with the disease to live well.

"We need to see greater investment in lung disease to continue to improve outcomes for those to come," he said.

"Toeing the start line of an Ironman event is an amazing achievement for anyone, so to watch someone like Russell throughout his journey has been incredibly inspiring and humbling for my team"

Mr Winwood will compete in the Ironman event in Cairns on Sunday, June 9.