Woman Who Needed a Double Lung Transplant Ran Her First Marathon

  • Robyn Davidson, 40, was born with the incurable genetic condition cystic fibrosis.
  • She could barely climb stairs before getting lung transplants in 2015. This year she ran a marathon.
  • This is Davidson’s story, as told to Alex Lloyd.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Robyn Davidson. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Every weekday morning for years, I’d drop my two daughters at school and give them a kiss goodbye, not knowing if I’d be returning to collect them.

I was born with the incurable progressive disease cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes the body to produce thicker-than-normal mucus in the lungs, leaving them more prone to infection. It also led to problems with my digestive system, and I was at risk of organ damage.

While medication and physical therapy can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life, many people with cystic fibrosis don’t live past 40. My condition had deteriorated so much by the age of 30 that I needed oxygen 12 hours a day and was on the waiting list for a lung transplant.

It was my only chance to see my children grow up, but it was like a weight hanging over me.

I was ready for the call

The call from the hospital could come at any time. I kept a packed bag in the hallway, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

I’d previously had quite an outdoorsy lifestyle and loved exploring the countryside with my girls. But it’d gotten to the point where I had to stop for a break while climbing the stairs in my house. I couldn’t work or go out shopping or socializing, and I was in the hospital all the time.

It wasn’t easy as a single mom. I was lucky to have my parents living close by and an amazing group of friends to support me.

Robyn Davidson with her daughters

Davidson with her daughters.

Courtesy of Robyn Davidson



In November 2013, I was put on the transplant list. It was my only hope, but it was a really stressful way to live. I had four demoralizing false alarms where I got sent home again because the match wasn’t quite right.

I had to be honest with my daughters about what having a transplant might mean, and my youngest developed separation anxiety. I even wrote them letters for their future birthdays so they would always know how much I love them.

I finally found a match

When another call came in July 2015, I assumed it would be another false alarm. So when I got to the hospital and was told this was for real, I started shaking.

The emotions were overwhelming. I knew that my life could change — or that I might not survive the surgery.

The operation took nine hours. When I came around, the pain was significant, but I very quickly felt a change in my breathing.

After a month in the hospital, I went home to continue my recovery and build up my strength. After seven months, I was walking a reasonable distance and decided to try running.

I’d always seen joggers on the street and in the park and told myself I’d try it if I ever had a transplant. It wasn’t easy. I followed the Couch to 5K program, which normally takes nine weeks but took me nine months. I’d never run before — I didn’t have any of those muscles most people develop when they’re younger.

My friends asked where I found the motivation, and I told them it was from not having been able to run for so long. I enjoyed the fact that I could do it at last. I had been given this gift, and I didn’t want to waste it.

I signed up to run a marathon

A couple of years ago, I decided to apply for the London Marathon. It had always felt like a pipe dream — but when I got a place, I knew I had to try it.

During a tough training run, my thoughts would often turn to what life was like for me before my transplant and to my donor and their family. It motivated me to keep going.

On October 2, 2022, I joined 42,000 runners — including 10 people with cystic fibrosis — at the start line of the London Marathon, to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

The atmosphere was incredible. My name was on my shirt, and people were calling it as I ran past; I had a huge smile. My daughters, Sophie, 20, and Phoebe, 15, were in the crowd cheering me on and greeting me as I raced towards the finish line.

I’d made it in 4 hours, 53 minutes, and 33 seconds, under my target time of five hours. I suspect I also ran further than the 26.2-mile distance as I kept weaving around to high-five people.

to manage these digestive symptoms and to prevent my immune system from attacking my donor organs. It also causes me to have some sinus problems and arthritis, although running has really helped my knees. But I essentially lead a very normal life now — something I could never have dreamed of.

My hope is that one day a cure can be found and everyone with cystic fibrosis will have the chance to fulfill their dreams, whether they’re running a marathon or watching their children get married.

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