St. Charles resident Mike Burke has completed nine marathons, 15 half marathons, one half Ironman triathlon, one Olympic-distance triathlon and has summited two Colorado fourteeners. He’s written a book on running and for six years was a coach at Fleet Feet. Oh, and by the way, he’s also been living with an incurable fatal disease for the past 45 years.
You were diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at 14 months old. How has it impacted your life?
Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. It produces a thick mucus that clogs the lungs, leads to life-threatening lung infections, and obstructs the pancreas. My parents were told they would see me suffer and die, and that I’d be lucky to survive childhood. I discovered CF for myself at age 16. I’d become more and more curious about the vast amounts of medicine I took and wondered what it was all about. I did some research and found out the new life expectancy was 18. Good news, but still a disturbing figure to a teenager.
When did you get involved with outdoor fitness, and why?
From the time I was diagnosed, doctors told my parents to keep me active. Along with respiratory therapies, exercise helps me cough. When I cough I spit up NASTY stuff from my lungs. When I move the mucus out, I can breathe better and the infections are reduced. As a child I played whatever was fun. I picked up bicycling in college — Greg LeMond had just won the Tour de France — and before long I was riding 50 miles a day. I started running in 2001, which was hard at first. My lungs weren’t clear, and my digestive system wasn’t managed. I’d cough so hard I’d puke. But I stuck with it and soon felt clearer lungs and figured out the diet routine. I did my first marathon in November of that year and haven’t stopped since.
Tell us about your upcoming Burke’s Cure Quest Ozark Trail hike.
I started hiking while living in Colorado and Virginia in the late 1990s, then picked it up again two years ago when I helped with the CF Foundation Gateway Chapter’s Xtreme Hike. That event is 30.1 miles in one day on the Ozark Trail. I fell back in love with the outdoors and being “off the stopwatch.” The Cure Quest event is my way of keeping my therapy fun and raising awareness for the cause. It’s going to be a 230-mile, 18-day hike on the Ozark Trail in September of this year. I’ll be doing 10 to 17 miles a day carrying a 35-pound backpack, then camping each night and cooking “trail food.” Anybody interested in joining me can send an email through the website. They can also learn about CF, get some inspiration, and donate much-needed dollars for research there.
What motivates you to keep pushing new boundaries?
Keeping my therapy fun by making challenges and bringing value to those around me in spite of having a chronic, progressive, unpredictable disease. As a young man, there were no adults with CF for me to look up to and say, “See, that person is living a good life, so can I.” By me not only being alive but also by living an active lifestyle, I hope a child with CF will see that their life has incredible possibilities.
Burke’s Cure Quest Ozark Trail 2015
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine