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Naperville boy, 10, with cystic fibrosis competing in triathlon

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Updated: September 25, 2013 6:12AM



While swimming, the 10-year-old lungs of Colin Walsh become mighty bellows.

This makes his mother very happy.

“I tell my friends, ‘I’d rather he be on swim team and exercise than go to school,” said Trisha Walsh, who learned during pregnancy her son had cystic fibrosis.

She has since become nearly an expert on the degenerative lung disease that causes massive mucus build up and wreaks havoc on the digestive system.

“He’s going to live longer and healthier if he keeps exercising, school of course is very important,” said Trisha Walsh, but before she could finish her sentence, her husband, Chris Walsh, exchanging smiles with his son, interjected: “You just won’t be as smart, you’ll live a long time, but you won’t be as smart.”

Trisha Walsh, familiar with their antics, continued: “We do everything we can to find him an exercise program that he enjoys so he’ll want to stick with it.”

The Walsh family, including Chris’s two sisters, will travel from their home in Naperville to Montrose beach Saturday to watch Colin compete in the kids portion of the Life Time Triathlon. Colin will swim 100 meters, bike 4 kilometers and run 1 kilometer.

“All the stuff inside a cystic fibrosis patient gets thick and sticky, and when you exercise, you thin it out,” Trisha Walsh said.

On Thursday, Colin, who averages about 80 to 90 percent lung function, proudly displayed four medals he won from finishing previous races.

The hardware didn’t come easy.

Every morning, Colin takes a cocktail of pills, inhales a medicinal powder through a nebulizer and wears a vibrating vest that shakes the mucus off his lungs.

“Cystic fibrosis was the card we were dealt and we just have to deal with it,” Trisha Walsh said.

The median life expectancy for someone with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease, was 31 in 2003 when Colin was born. Now it is 38.

“He’s had days where he’s at swim meets and things like that and he’s gotten sick ... but we deal with and just move on and try to get right back on the horse,” Trisha Walsh said. “It’s hard to see him when he has days like that because your heart breaks for him.”

On hard days Colin asks his mother, “Why me?”

The end goal, Colin says, is “a cure ... so I don’t have to do this anymore.”

To that end, the family has made it their mission to help raise awareness and money.

“Hopefully in a year or so new drugs will be available to help fight even more,” said Chris Walsh, a sales engineer at Google.

Colin finished his last triathlon — a 100-meter swim, 3-mile bike and 1-mile run — in 29 minutes.

When asked if having cystic fibrosis makes competing in triathlons harder, Colin simply said: “no.”

“He doesn’t know differently ... and he beats a lot of the other kids, including some of his friends,” Trisha Walsh said.

On Thursday, Colin played a few notes of the “Star Wars” theme song on his saxophone. Minutes later he popped in his earbuds and bounced to a Stevie Wonder tune.

“We tell Colin that cystic fibrosis is just a side issue we’re dealing with and it doesn’t define who he is,” Trisha Walsh said.

The mantra apparently stuck.

The family plans to apply with Make a Wish Foundation and Colin already knows his wish: “I want to climb a mountain.”

Email: mdudek@suntimes.com

Twitter: @mitchdudek



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