So it was, as double-lung transplant recipient David Crosby approached the finish line of the gruelling New York Marathon last Sunday, he mopped his brow and with no great fuss slipped his sunglasses over his eyes. In a moment of quiet contemplation, before being swamped by family and well-wishers crossing the final threshold, the Kingscourt father-of-three contemplated how just “lucky” he is. He considered the selfless sacrifice of his anonymous donor, and the tragic loss of his three siblings from respiratory problems, similar to the rare and incurable lung disease with which he was diagnosed two years ago.
“I know it was raining and I might’ve been able to play it off as that but, really, it was tears, just constant tears and emotion coming out. Crossing that finish line was very emotional for me. I had to run with that from start to finish, and it’s hard to get your pace when that’s all building up inside you. It’s a heavy thing to carry,” explained the 42-year-old former IT worker.
“Everyone knows my story now and what I’ve gone through to get here. I ran for both our lives, mine and my donors. I did it for everyone who can’t, for health reasons or whatever, do what I’ve just done. I did it for me and my family, and all those that aren’t here with us today, and I did it for all the goodwill shown by people at home. It’s been incredible, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
David’s incredible journey, from medical theatre to marathon competitor, started in late 2015 when diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) and in need of an urgent lung transplant.
Just 20 months on, and with a marathon medal around his neck, he told The Anglo-Celt by phone from New York, while still a little bit stiff and sore, he feels “absolutely on top of the world”.
At 6.15.31 and in 47,769 place overall, David became the first Irish double lung transplant recipient to complete a marathon. He was the second ever recipient to cross the finish line at the New York Marathon but did so in the fastest time.
“My original plan was inside seven hours, so I beat that one. The only other organ recipient finished in 6.50, so I broke that too,” says the Meath Hill native, who lives with family in East Cavan, to where they will return tomorrow (Thursday) - no doubt to a hero’s welcome.
The fairytale script of David’s milestone achieved, which he did in aid of Cystic Fibrosis, has all the trappings of a bookshelf best-seller or big screen biopic.
Having arranged to meet his mother before the start of the race, the bus they took to the marathon drop-off point on Staten Island skewed off course and ended up in New Jersey. It was only by chance that he found his tearful mum Kathleen at the starting line.
“It was about 10 minutes before we had to go so we were walking to the start and there was mammy, bawling. That set us all off. There were hugs and tears, it was like something you’d see in a movie.”
David ran the first two miles without stopping, buoyed by the sheer emotion, sights and sounds of what was unfurling all around him.
With Dave McNally and Andy O’Brien remaining by David’s side throughout, he paid tribute to the two men for getting him “through thick and thin”, particularly after he was forced to pull up along Fourth Avenue. “Maybe it was walking around the city the day before, or the flight, I don’t know but my legs were heavy and my feet were sore. After about 10 miles, I could feel every lump and bump in by body and, at that stage, I knew myself this was going to be a long slog."
But David kept going, through what he described as “a Croke Park on final day for six full hours”, complete with high-fives on Fifth Avenue, street parties at Sunset Park and Irish bands in the Bronx. “Meeting people on the streets I used to know when we lived in New York years ago was special. An awful lot of people came over from Ireland to support us and that was very emotional too, it was brilliant, a wall of spectators, unbelievable. I’ll never forget it."
David dismisses any notion of an approach to describe him and his achievement as “inspirational”, simply stating: “I’m just a normal fella.”
A total of 21 runners from Kingscourt and environs, including David’s wife Katie, several family members and close friends also took part in the marathon.
In celebration at their combined efforts they swapped running shoes for dancing shoes, flagging a stretch hummer limousine to the historic Fraunces Tavern on Wall Street, owned by David’s friend Eddie Travers, who donated 20% of their final drinks bill to the fundraising pot.
“I had my reasons for doing [the marathon], and so did everyone else. So the party was well deserved. We had a local musician there too so it was just like home, Kingscourt took over that corner of New York.”
David’s is already in high-demand across the Atlantic where several TV, radio stations, and newspapers have picked up on his incredible tale.
“My body was tired but my lungs carried us around those streets. I’m sore, but it’s a great feeling to be sore, I’m so thankful to still be alive, and the pain is reminder of that, to know you’ve put yourself out there and left nothing behind.
“At the end of the day this isn’t about me, it’s all about organ donor awareness, that’s the message. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the selflessness of my donor. I don’t know if I’d ever run a marathon again but I want to use this opportunity while I have it to raise funds for the Mater hospital in gratitude for everything they did for me. I cannot put into words the enormity of the gift I’ve been given, I want to show them all how much I appreciate my second chance of life.