Uluru Outback Adventures of an Asthmatic

As an Australian I have always wanted to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock). However, just the sheer thought of the barren hostile conditions of the desert including extreme heat, wind and dust have hindered its appeal. Let’s face it, being an asthmatic conveys a degree of anxiety whereby the thought of isolation far from a hospital combined with multiple triggers can be somewhat terrifying! Oh, and that’s without adding my fear of snakes, but I don’t want to talk about that!

Ayers

Pictured me at Uluru National Park

For the best part of the last 2 decades I have limited myself from truly exploring our amazing country because of these fears. I slowly stopped partaking in strenuous activities and adventures as exercise often triggered an exacerbation. However, over the past 12-18 months I have found a new sense of adventure and realised that being active despite of my asthma is in fact a real possibility. So much so it is now my new normality and something I encourage all you fellow asthmatics to undertake.

Hello, my name is Julia, I am a 46-year-old HR and Operations professional living with chronic severe brittle asthma. Diagnosed at the age of 10, I have lived with asthma for over 36 years. This is just one of my stories which I hope gives you some inspiration and courage to join me and become active and achieve your dreams. As you too can reap the benefits to fulfil your dreams and set out on your own adventure in exploring our beautiful planet.

As many of you will appreciate, as my asthma deteriorated so did my general wellbeing. I slowly withdrew from sporting activities including the gym and even fun outings such as the Royal Melbourne Show even became too hard. With a list of allergies as long as the River Nile (ok so that might be a slight exaggeration, but some day’s that’s how it feels), it was far simpler to basically stop doing things. I had accepted this as my life until I met my prince charming about 12 years ago, who is now my Husband. A younger and much more active human than I, I slowly pushed myself to become more socially engaging and to get out and about more. And whilst I thought I was active and healthy; it wasn’t until a couple of years ago when a rather unflattering photo of myself appeared in bathers that I realised I needed to do something….and fast! And so, the reality was that instead of me becoming more active myself, my health had impacted on my husband and he had joined me in becoming unhealthy and unfit, hence it was time for change.

So back to my story. I have just returned home from an amazing adventure that previously I could have only envied those whom had embarked on it before me and only dreamed of completing, walking the base of Uluru & Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). A mere pipedream I had had for so many years, however due to my poor health I had convinced myself that I wasn’t missing much, I mean seriously…..it’s just a big rock in the middle of nowhere in outback Australia, but WOW was I wrong.

There is something both spiritual and magical about standing at the base of this incredible unique monolith where its sheer enormity dwarfs everything in its surroundings. The unique and somewhat romantic colours and formations appear to constantly change with the sun making this one of the most enchanted places I have ever visited. The vibrancy of the red, orange and sometimes brown rock circled by the red desert sand and in contrast to the green of the foliage of its outer landscape is a sight only described as breathtaking.

Backpack in toe (containing my trusty Ventolin inhaler and my nebuliser) I set out with my adventure partners, my husband & mother in-law to explore the intricacy of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Our first walk was a leisurely stroll around part of the base of Uluru experiencing the silence and mystery of the forever changing exterior, aboriginal art and waterholes and learning about some of the dreamtime stories along the way. And as my bronchioles adjusted to the unique climate, I slowly became more comfortable to take my adventure further. So, day 2 we set out to walk part of Kata Tjuta known as Valley of the Winds (for a reason). Secretly nervous of yet another trigger, I took a moment to psych myself up and clear my mind of the fear of a potential asthma exacerbation, and so we set off to embrace the challenge.

Kata Tjuta

Pictured Kata Tjuta as the sun is rising

Graded as a level 4 – difficult the 3 hour, 7.4klm walk encompassing some very steep ascents and descents, rocky trails and some rather challenging climbs, there were many times that I looked up at the angle of the ascent and had an overwhelming sense of inability, followed by a familiar tightening of the airways. I knew deep down I could do it despite my anxiety, but subconscious distress of past experiences was overwhelming, so several deep breathes and a few nervous inhalations of Ventolin I slowly embarked on the climb one step at a time taking a few rest breaks along the incline. And while it may have taken me a little more time to reach the summit than others, I am grateful that I embraced the challenge. Words cannot express how exhilarating and majestic the views were let alone my accomplishment. Here I was trekking a level 4 difficult walk climbing steep inclines as a serve brittle asthmatic in the middle of the desert miles away from any medical assistance and I can tell you it felt incredible. I had prepared myself for the walk by being active, my health was good, I had engaged with my health professionals and my asthma was as well controlled as a brittle asthmatic could hope for, and here I was fulfilling a dream experiencing the outback with a smile as big as Uluru itself.

Trusted Reliver

Pictured me with my trusty reliever medication and climbing the rocks at Kata Tjuta

And while many of you may have seen pictures or photos of this amazing natural wonder of the world, nothing can prepare you for the physical enormity or majestic beauty of seeing it in person. I urge you if you have ever had the desire to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta, don’t hesitate just to do it. I am living proof that if you are active you can fulfil your dreams and set out on your own adventures, even with asthma. So, here’s the thing it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to be easy but as Colin Powel said, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

For me the first step was easy I had the wakeup call, the hideous photo which changed my mindset. From there I made an appointment with my Asthma and Allergy Professor Mark Hew, where we discussed a plan to get me active. Firstly, he referred me to a dietician to look at my weight and how I could potentially work on reducing the weight I had gained from many years of prednisolone use. I then set myself daily goals on increasing my walking and exercise, at the start it was 5 mins a day and I slowly increased it 5 minutes at a time. I enlisted my husband to come on the journey with me and invested in a Fitbit to monitor my progress and keep me on track, I now walk a minimum of 10,000 steps every day. I have recently joined the local gym and even see a personal trainer, something that 2 years ago was unimaginable. And while I still struggle with asthma daily, I continue to take a barrage of preventative and reliever medications I can honestly say I look the best I have done in decades, my friends and family comment on how great I look, I have more energy and my increased overall health and wellbeing has improved and as a result I am able to cope with my exacerbations better both mentally and physically.

This trip has inspired me to return once again to outback Australia to explore more of this amazing country that I have seen so little of, my next adventure is to trek around Kings Canyon another dream that was unthinkable a couple of years ago which I am confident I can achieve thanks to my new found active life despite my ongoing battle with asthma.