A man who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at the age of 10 is now inspiring young and old people to strive.
With years ahead of him, supportive parents, four brothers and one sister, he decided he was going to make every second count without holding back.
This is the story of Jerry Cahill, who this month will be turning 57. Told he would live until the age of 16, he surpassed his life expectancy relying on sports to make it through.
“I pushed through; some of it was difficult initially, but the more I ran and the more exercise I did, things just got a little bit easier. I was relentless on trying to stay healthy and live my life, and not be concerned about CF,” Cahill said of his journey.
Cahill was born and raised in Bay Ridge. He went to Xaverian high school and made the basketball team when he was just a teen. He started running and soon got involved with pole vaulting, all while following his parents’ life lesson, a lesson that would stick with him for the rest of his life: You cannot fail, they would say.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to form in the lungs and other organs. Cahill has lived with the disease for most of his life, way exceeding the median age of survival which is now 37 years.
“It’s a learning process [to exercise] for people with CF,” explained Cahill, “They feel like they can’t. ‘I can’t exercise [they say]. I cough, but coughing is the best thing with CF to clear out your lungs; the important thing is to keep your lungs clear.”
The athlete is a long-time volunteer at the Boomer Esiason Foundation, overseeing the foundation’s scholarship program and transplant grant program. He’s also the founder of the Team Boomer athletic program, encouraging people living with the disease to exercise for the sake of their health.
“I run to breath. I run to live,” Cahill constantly remarks.
In November, 2011, he launched the You Cannot Fail: You Are the Hero of Your Own Story campaign, releasing two books and producing CF national podcasts.
“Whether you have CF or not, exercise is good for the body, mind and spirit,” Cahill contended.
Last year, three months after he had undergone a double lung transplant, Cahill ran a 10k race in Central Park.
“I ran it with my surgeon,” he recalled. “I thought it was crazy, but it was just that whole thing about being relentless, positive, determined.”
Growing up with CF has taught Cahill to maintain a positive and optimistic spirit, living each day as a blessing. The transplant, which he calls “the Gift of Life,” has changed his life irrevocably. He still takes 45 pills a day, but dedicates his life to continue raising awareness of the importance exercise has played in his life.
Among the programs Cahill has created is Exercise for Life, which awards a true scholar athlete prize to one female and one male. The two high school seniors receive $10,000 after having to run a mile and a half and keeping training for two months. “It comes down to whoever has the fastest time,” Cahill concluded.
The impact of his three word mantra — You Cannot Fail — has been incredibly powerful. It touches everyone’s hearts and relates to each individual story, whether about CF or not.