When Nick Ashill’s mother was diagnosed with IPF in 2012, he and his family knew nothing about the condition. The Wellington-based marketing professor remembers the shock of realising that the illness was incurable.

“I think the way the news is delivered to families is so important, and the availability of support networks,” says Nick. “The communication from the doctor to our family was very clinical. We realised that there was no cure – the drugs are better now than they were then, but unless you’re younger and can handle a lung transplant it’s terminal. IPF is associated with certain risk factors, but none of them applied to mum. We still don’t know why it happened.”

Nick’s parents had been married for over 50 years, and had quite traditional gender roles, but these reversed as his father became his mother’s carer. “They took the decision for mum to stay at home and say goodbye in her own home rather than going to a hospice,” says Nick.

Nick’s mum passed away in 2015. As an ultra-marathon runner, Nick decided to realise his dream of running across the US from LA to New York, and to use this opportunity to raise awareness and funds to support those living with IPF. As his mother lived in the UK, he chose to support the UK-based Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust.

“My family received so much love and support during the last years and months of mum’s life, and I wanted to use the run to give back,” says Nick. “Awareness of IPF in the general public is very low, and families often don’t know where to get the support they need.”

Nick started his run on 14 May 2017. By August 2, he was 3,949 km into his 5,000 km journey when disaster stuck just outside Columbus, Ohio. Nick was hit by a truck, smashing his right leg and pelvis and throwing him into a ditch. The driver sped on, and sadly has never been identified.

Thankfully, Nick was on the phone to his wife Sarah at the time, who alerted the emergency services. Less than an hour later, Nick was located by state police and paramedics. He was flown to the hospital which would become his home for the next five months as he underwent multiple surgeries and embarked on a gruelling recovery.

Because of the severity of Nick’s injuries, he was told that he would probably never run again. However, he has defied the odds and is back to running six days a week. Now, he is determined to return to the US to finish his run.

While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted his plans to complete the run in May of this year, he is optimistic that the vaccine rollout will enable him to return in September 2021 at the earliest, or in May/June 2022. And it’s his hope that three of the doctors who helped him recover will be at the start line in Ohio to cheer him on.


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