David Roles is an avid martial artist but can only practice his hobby for about a minute before he has a hard time breathing, thanks to cystic fibrosis.
The Edmonton man was diagnosed with the disease – which causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs – when he was just 10 years old.
“It didn’t really get too bad until I was maybe about 16 – then it was just two weeks in the hospital, two weeks out. Two in, two out.”
Roles estimates he spent two years of his childhood in hospitals, getting treatment for his disease.
One day, a nurse inadvertently changed his life.
“She brought in one of those TV trays with all the movies to pick. I just said, ‘I like Jackie Chan movies.’ I mean, who doesn’t when they’re a kid? And there was the Bruce Lee story.”
The movie inspired Roles. He was fascinated by everything Bruce Lee overcame in his short life. He started practicing Jeet Kune Do, Lee’s personalized form of martial arts.
At 19 years old, Roles lungs were failing, so he received a double-lung transplant.
“While I was on the waiting list for the transplant, I’d go up and down the stairs all day, just trying to be as fit as I could. I’d try to kick the trees in the terrarium in the U of A, holding my IV out of the way so I don’t rip it out.”
Roles didn’t let the transplant keep him down.
“I was just like, 80 pounds. I was so skinny. It was really hard to gain some weight. Any activity that makes you more hungry, that’s a good thing.”
Roles is now 27 years old. Doctors told him his new lungs would buy him another 10 years – that means he only has two left. Roles plans on doing even better.
“Stats can be beaten. Odds can be beaten. You have to try. That’s the point, right?” he said. “I’m supposed to be sick and disabled. No one knows until I tell them, ever.”
He’s still in pain and needs to take a plethora of pills every day to stay alive but Jeet Kune Do gives him purpose.
“When you’re sitting there and you wonder, ‘What am I going to get up for tomorrow? To take 50 pills? If I miss them, what’s going to happen?’ Or you could say, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and be able to touch my head on my knees or run around the block.'”
Roles hopes children with cystic fibrosis can benefit from his experience and try martial arts.
“You can die any day but I’ll die sooner if I don’t push myself.”