OGDEN — In medical terms, a person with cystic fibrosis has a genetic disorder that creates mucus buildup in the lungs and other organs, and long-term issues that include progressive difficulty breathing and frequent lung infections.
But in a world of woes, Katie Slaugh is a breath of fresh air.
Cystic fibrosis may describe Katie’s condition, but she refuses to be defined or handicapped by it.
The 26-year-old from Vernal has registered for and will walk in the 17th annual Ogden Marathon on Saturday, May 20 — her first attempt at that distance after many shorter ventures.
“I’ve always thought it would be kind of fun to do, but I never, ever, ever thought I’d be signing up for a marathon or actually training for one,” Katie said. “At one point in time, I wasn’t really sure I would do a 5K, so it’s been very surreal, for sure.”
One of the nurses Katie sees for antibiotics and “cleanout” treatment of her lungs (supplementing the daily maintenance routine at home) suggested the Ogden Marathon and set up a 12-week training program to help her get in shape.
“Exercise and good cardio are some treatments for CF, so when I told my doctor, he said, ‘Go for it, if you think you can do it, I’m all in,’ ” Katie said.
“He high-fived me and just said, ‘Wear your oxygen.’ If that’s the only restriction, I can handle it.”
Handling it actually comes down to Katie’s mom Teralene Slaugh, who totes the 20-pound oxygen tanks and walks beside her daughter, which enables Katie to take on the challenge.
“I’m like Katie. I like a challenge. If she’s doing this, I’m not letting her do it alone,” Teralene said. “It’s always easier doing it in twos.”
The dynamic duo will participate with thousands of other runners over a course that eventually winds down scenic Ogden Canyon.
“There’s some kind of addiction, a huge adrenaline rush, in anticipation of pounding the pavement with thousands of people entered in a full or half (marathon), who feel the same way about running as you do,” Katie said.
“You have hundreds of other people supporting you and people waiting for you at the finish line. And you’ll have to do 26 (miles) that day. They drop you off at point A and you have to get to (point B) somehow.”
It’s a tall task for anyone, let alone someone with her condition.
“We drove the course recently and I’m pretty sure I can make it to the dam — 17 miles. I think I can do it from there. It’s all downhill from there, so to speak,” Katie said.
Some have wondered aloud about the toll it takes on Katie and whether it has hurt or helped her situation.
“People wonder why I let her do this. I’m not going to put her in a bubble, because then I won’t have her,” Teralene said.
“This way, at least we have memories, because we are going to lose Katie eventually — CF is going to take her. But doctors are dumbfounded how much better she’s doing with exercise and a change of diet. She’s bound and determined to make it to 30.”
Her mother said her first question about the marathon was, “Are you serious?” followed by, “Where is it, how much and when do we get to go?”
The Ogden Marathon is a culmination of an effort that started two years ago as a 5K fundraiser for a friend with cancer, which came after Katie spent the better part of nine months in the hospital with cystic fibrosis complications.
“A nurse came in and said, ‘You can’t keep doing this, so what are you going to change?’ ” Katie said. “I pretty much figured I had nothing to lose because things weren’t looking good. So I went on a lactose-free diet and decided to get out and be more active, and my pulmonary function tests actually went higher.”
Since then, mom and daughter have completed more than 20 races 5K or longer — and last year tackled half-marathons in American Fork and Cedar City.
They had only four days to train after getting in as an alternate in American Fork and came up just short, going 11 1/2 miles before Katie had to quit — not because of lung problems, but because her hips “locked up.”
Three months later, with more time to train, they completed the Cedar City half-marathon in 3 1/2 hours, an average of about 15 minutes a mile.
“We could have gone faster, but my sister got blisters and we had to slow down for her,” Katie said. “I felt we could have done it in three.”
She will need a similar pace to complete the Ogden Marathon because the course closes at six hours and all participants must stop at that point. Katie suspects a few 13-minute miles to start will give her the cushion needed if she fatigues near the end.
During the races, Teralene says some runners start wearing down and they come upon her and Katie with the oxygen. “We’re like, ‘Buck up. Look, you ain’t got it so bad.’ We just kind of laugh and chuckle as we’re passing them.”
The Ogden Marathon is part of her four-race bucket list that includes American Fork again (she wants to finish), Cedar City again (she wants to better her time) and the Dino half-marathon in Vernal, staged this weekend.
“Even if I make it 17 miles, it’s farther than I’ve ever gone,” Katie says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever try again. I’m pretty sure this will be my one and only marathon. So I can cross it off the list and say I’ve done one.”
Recommendations from health professionals aside, Katie simply likes walking.
“I like the way it feels ... When you’re walking, you have time to yourself to think and work things out,” she said. “Most of the time when I’m walking, I don’t have CF. It makes me feel more normal, I guess for lack of a better word. Even if for just 3 miles, CF is on hold. I’m just enjoying life.”
“It’s kind of profound,” Katie said. “I’m 26 years old and I’m going 26 miles — one mile per year for each year of being alive. I can do this ... It’s been a fun journey, for sure.”