The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Michael Johnson ‘13 Wins Contest with Video About His Cystic Fibrosis

“I have a genetic lung disease,” LAHS graduate Michael Johnson ‘13 said. “It says that I can’t be an athlete. It says I’ll die young. I don’t listen—I define myself.”

Michael has cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung condition that affects children and young adults. He placed first in the video category of GNC’s “Me on GNC” contest in September, winning $25,000 and a feature of his video entry on the GNC website. The contest highlighted individuals like Michael who have taken personal responsibility for their health conditions and pushed themselves to their limits physically.

Since he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 2008 Michael has worked to defy the odds of the disease. Michael’s video entry combined clips of his exercise routines with voice overs explaining how he doesn’t let the statistics and reputation of cystic fibrosis stop him from intense daily exercise routines.

Cystic fibrosis causes mucus buildup in the lungs and often affects the digestion of important nutrients in foods for the body. Currently there are no cures for the disease. The current average life expectancy for people diagnosed with cystic fibrosis is in the low forties. But, for people like Michael, who maintain a high level of health and athleticism, statistics suggest a higher life expectancy.

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“I run, swim, bike, jump rope, lift weights, play basketball—I do anything that challenges me,” Michael said. “As a result, my lung capacity is 20% better than a healthy person’s lung capacity. I am an athlete.”

Michael’s daily exercises vary, but he usually tries to push himself to the limit to strengthen his lung muscles. Although he challenges himself, Michael also suffers from exercise induced asthma, causing him to be exceedingly cautious when exercising.

“99.9 percent of the time, however, I am completely fine,” Michael said.

After participating in similar competitions, including an Ellen Degeneres video contest in which he placed 11th and won $500, Michael stumbled upon the GNC contest online. Determined to earn money to help pay for college, Michael created his video entry with help from his brother-in-law, Garth, and sister, Tiffany, who is a sophomore at the school. Through his entry, he also aimed to spread awareness about cystic fibrosis and how people with the disease can still live active lifestyles.

The prompt Michael responded to was fairly vague, simply: “What is your fitness story?” In response, Michael wrote a script for the video—admitting it took only 15 minutes because the words came so naturally to him—filmed clips and compiled the entry in a matter of weeks.

“I was so excited when I learned that we had won,” Michael said. “I was sitting in class and I was checking my email. My hands started shaking, and I couldn’t restrain my excitement.”

After coming in first place, Michael and Garth split the prize money in half. Michael hopes to invest his portion in a low-risk bond to help pay for college expenses and plans on continuing to enter contests to spread awareness for cystic fibrosis.

Michael said that though he wasn’t drastically psychologically affected when diagnosed, but it took time to adjust to the addition of daily routines including sinus rinses, sinus steroids and the use of an inhaler. Often, Michael said, it’s difficult to clear out time for this routine, which also involves the use of a lung vest machine to shake mucus out of his lungs.

“Due to advances in medicine and technology, life with cystic fibrosis is relatively comfortable,” Michael said. “Typically people with cystic fibrosis will do lung treatments daily, as well as take medications to help clear sinuses, improve lung function and aid in the process of digestion.”

Despite the “daily nuisances” of cystic fibrosis, Michael continues to look forward and remains optimistic.

“I have such faith in the future and in medicine, that I figure that everything will turn out okay in the end,” Michael said.

While Michael focuses on the future, he is currently studying at Brigham Young University, and will serve on a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints beginning next year. He plans to pick up his major in Electrical Engineering when he returns from his mission.

Michael is avid about continuing to spread awareness about cystic fibrosis in his future. Eventually, he hopes to be in a position to help those who are attempting to cure cystic fibrosis and to inspire others with the disease to tackle their condition head on.

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