As a chronic disease that causes difficulties in breathing, persistent coughing, thick mucus and wheezing, most patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) struggle to manage the symptoms, often making exercise extremely difficult. 23 year-old Crystal Park, however, decided to take control of her body and the disease and, despite the difficulties, engages in several sports and physical activities. Most importantly, she hikes for a cause: to support cystic fibrosis research and efforts to educate people about the disease.
Crystal has pledged to climb all 55 mountains 14,000 meters above sea level in Colorado — known as the “14ers” — in one Summer, a project that she named Crystal Climbs for Cystic Fibrosis. The idea is to raise both awareness and funding to support research to find a cure for the disease. It is a major challenge, with or without a chronic disease, and Crystal has been preparing for the adventure since October 2014.
“I have always wanted to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis on a larger scale than just a few donations here and there,” explained Crystal in an interview with Cystic Fibrosis News Today. “So I thought to myself: ‘The only way I can accomplish this is by doing something that even ‘normal’ people would be astounded by.’ By doing this in one summer, as well as having cystic fibrosis, I thought that it would gain the necessary attention for raising awareness and funds for research.”
Crystal is planning on initiating the hiking project on May 18 and will climb the 55 mountains along with friends and family within a twelve-week time frame, while the funding she raises from the effort will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In addition to raising awareness and funding, the challenge aims to show others that despite having the chronic disease, CF does not have to be a debilitating condition that controls people’s lives.
Crystal was born in Colorado and was diagnosed at birth with CF, but ever since she was a child, she has remained active and her family has helped her live with as few limitations as possible, with her mother serving as a great inspiration and support for her activities. While she was growing up, her childhood was spent outdoors, and she started developing an interest for the mountains of Colorado: “caving, rock climbing, mountaineering, camping, fishing — you name it, I’ve done it,” she said.
“Hiking mountains quickly became one my most favorite activities though; being able to look at the height and beauty of the land before you then tackling it and getting to the top is the most powerful and liberating feelings. It’s very similar to that of battling cystic fibrosis,” said Crystal. “You have this silent demon ravaging your body and being able to power through what you’re facing, the difficulties that would debilitate most, only to come out on top gives you a sense of strength that words cannot describe.”
Like any other patient, Crystal needs to manage the disease and she uses a therapy vest and a nebulizer treatment once or twice daily in order to maintain the strength in her lungs, as well as vitamins, pancreatic enzymes for digestion and other medications to keep her body healthy. In addition, while hiking, Crystal has a rescue inhaler at all times, which she said most of the time is not needed, drinks 4.0L of water per day to stay hydrated and prepares herself with extra electrolytes and sodium.
“I am also a very intuitive person, something that has been developed over the years and I try listen to what my body tells me,” explained Crystal. “For me, it’s a matter of identifying that line between when my body really needs a break and when my mind is trying to convince myself to give up. The body is a beautiful and very capable machine, much more capable and adapting than we tend to give it credit for so most times, I power through the struggle to reach that next level of capability.”
Crystal is trying to take advantage of what she likes to do in advocating for the disease, and she lives by a motto that was passed on to her when she was little by her mother. “CF does not define you. You define CF and at the end of the day, it comes down to you being the one who chooses whether you’re going to let it control you or if you’re going to control it. Even on your roughest of days, wake up, choose the latter, and know that you have the strength to power through whatever is thrown your way because the fight for life is worth it.”
More information about Crystal Climbs for Cystic Fibrosis is available on the project’s Facebook page, while Crystal is searching for funding to be invested in CF research through the Go Fund Me page here.