Afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis, Martial Arts Saved My Life (Part 3)

RAIN, FISTS & FLICKS:

How Weather, Martial Arts and Kung Fu Movies Saved My Life (Part 3)

In Part I of this trilogy, I shared that in 1973, when I was 16, my doctor told me I’d be dead in five years due the incurable fatal disease cystic fibrosis (CF). By watching a Bruce Lee film, I realized I had one chance to survive, find a Shaolin monk in China and ask him to teach me chi gong (chi for short).

Part II revealed that by 1979, with months left to live, I moved to the under strict martial law and distrusting-America Taiwan; this wariness was caused by America breaking ties with the country.

When I became a stuntman in Chinese kung fu films, I met an ascetic chi master named Lee who subjected me to a perilous trial of life and death on Monsoon Mountain.

By day 29, although I daily endured torrential rain and gale force winds, survived a deadly earthquake and was swallowed by a mudslide, Lee still never came up the mountain. I didn’t know how much longer I could survive.

On day 30, while sitting in front of the mountain top’s statue of Buddha, my heart stopped and my body sloughed to the ground. Moment’s later, a hand touched my shoulder, a faint hiss became audible, I opened my heavy eyes…dazed and confused, I’m standing? Lee saged in Chinese,

I realized that the discipline, pain and martial challenges faced at Cornell, the bare foot in snow runs in freezing temperatures and never passing out during the hot and humid last-one-to-faint training days, all helped me to endure and survive Lee’s 30-day test.

Lee taught me one movement per month for four months. I’d practice each skill two hours a day for a month before learning the next one. Five months later, I was medication free.

Yet had I really found a way to control Cystic Fibrosis and not have CF control me?

My final test occurred the following summer amid a violent typhoon, where after being chased by rats the size of cats through waist-deep sewage inundated flood waters, I practiced chi at a construction site rife with body-damaging flying debris.

The sound effect of spear-like bamboo poles whistling toward me was filled with harrowing, impalement trepidation, but the CF control point had to be made. Days later, I was running a 41o C body temperature and came down with a serious lung infection.

Years ago, a similar illness would require me to increase my antibiotics, have a long hospital stay with intensive therapies and then it would take me months to regain my health.

The monsoons tested me, a typhoon taught me. Five years after learning chi and still off medication, I had to demonstrate to myself and the world that my health improvement was real and prove that chi was an effective therapy against CF beyond just feeling good. I also wanted to inspire kids to fight against their illnesses.

In 1985, I announced that I would speed walk across America to show the importance of chi and a positive mental attitude as a means to combat terminal disease.

Craig walk up the Cascade Mountains
Craig walking up the Cascade mountains

When word of this got out, Dr. Warren Warrick, head of the University of Minnesota’s renowned CF Center, claimed I was a fake and wanted to prove that I didn’t have CF.

He quickly confirmed my CF diagnosis and showed that 30% of both of my lungs were completely deteriorated as a result of CF. He also tested and concluded that chi was a useful therapy for CFers and possibly for those afflicted with other lung diseases.

May 18, 1986, weighing 175 pounds, I began my epic journey from Cornell University in NY. My wife Silvia driving an 8-passenger van filled with medical equipment, camping gear, food, water and oxygen tanks.

After doing a marathon/day for 115 days at a 4.3 mph pace and weighing 145 pounds, I ended my 3000.2 mile walk in Seattle, WA, so I could pay respects to Bruce Lee’s grave. Each day, memories of danger, delight and tears were filled with physical, mental and emotional challenges.

Throughout the saga, terminally ill children promised me that if I completed my walk alive they’d fight harder. In Pennsylvania, a distraught mum slapped my face, screaming why didn’t I walk last year when her daughter with CF was alive and needed inspiration?

In Ohio, a kid with CF into baseball couldn’t understand what I was doing until his dad said, “Imagine running around the baseball diamond a million times.” He asked me to score a million runs.

Whether being attacked by vicious black flies and mosquitoes, avoiding cars accidentally or purposefully trying to hit me, dog attacks, walking downwind up steep mountain highways for 10 miles toward vomit-inducing animal carcasses and fecal stenches from animal farms, I kept marching forward.

Craig, Silvia and a kid in Ohio
Craig, Silvia and a kid with CF into baseball taking picture in Ohio

Through heat stroke, sun poisoning, muscle injuries, heavy winds and rain, golf ball-sized hail, freezing temps and foot blisters having blisters, I refused to walk attached to an oxygen tank like the press and TV suggested I do on camera for dramatic effect.

I’d never cheat myself or the many thousands cheering me on.

The achievement garnered national and international attention as I received letters of commendation from President Ronald Reagan and the Queen of England.

As of 2017, I’ve practiced chi for 37 years, been off all medication for 37 years and married to Silvia for 36 years.

My life experiences all reflect that no matter what one’s negative situation is in life, you just can’t sit around and wait for things to happen, you have to get out there and face the challenges.

Life’s obstacles create chances to grow through what we go through, where a disability begets ability, negatives become positives and weaknesses breed strengths.

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