The first time Brandon Miller, 35, competed in a half-triathlon, nearly seven years ago, he didn’t finish. His swim time wasn’t fast enough to continue to the cycling and running segments. After months of preparation, he felt like he failed. He was disappointed and disheartened.
Any competitor might feel the same — but most triathletes don’t have cystic fibrosis. Brandon knew how to face challenges.
Back in Michigan in the 1980s, doctors had diagnosed Brandon’s older sister with CF a few months after she was born. Brandon was tested at birth, which allowed his parents to support his needs immediately. Still, it’s never easy to manage it all perfectly, and he struggled to eat a lot of foods.
“I was very, very thin growing up,” Brandon said.
Once they figured out his digestive enzymes, he could eat more, and his body better absorbed the nutrients. His parents also kept him and his sister active and on top of their regular treatments. But as a teenager, Brandon rebelled.
“When you become a teenager and you’re trying to fit in with everyone, and you realize you are different, you rebel so hard,” Brandon said. “I didn’t want to go home early from hanging out with friends because I had to do my treatments.”
That was the only time in his life he regularly felt sick. He got back on track and committed to taking his CF — and his health — seriously. At 19, Brandon started weight training, then calisthenics, then jogging. Initially, he just wanted to put on muscle, since it was still hard to gain weight, and work his lungs. Then, at 22, he met Jo, who had long been a runner. She encouraged him to get out five days a week.
“The first two weeks I did it, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs,” Brandon said, but after breathing hard and hitting the pavement, “I would feel so clear and amazing … it was so worth it.”
When he was 26, Brandon and Jo were married. He had run a couple of half-marathons but wanted to challenge himself, so they decided to train for triathlons. While Brandon felt solid on the running and cycling, his swims would get interrupted by coughing, and he couldn’t move efficiently over distances.
Then he didn’t meet the time requirement during that first half-triathlon. It was a huge turning point.
“It was really hard, but it was also one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had in sports,” Brandon said. “Failing that hard, I learned how to change my attitude about feeling like I failed.” He began taking his training “as seriously as I take my CF.”
Then, when Brandon was 31, something significantly altered his fitness journey — and his life. As he was preparing for his second half-triathlon, a new combination medication to treat cystic fibrosis, Trikafta®, became available.
“Man, that was a life-changer in almost every aspect,” Brandon said. “I felt like my body was being rewired. And it was both great and weird. My mentality felt different. My skin felt different. My insides felt different. It felt like my chest was tight, but it was because it was expanding so much, more than it ever could.”
His training took off. He put on more muscle and had more energy — which helped him conquer the swim challenge and complete the half-triathlon. In 2021, to devote their lives more fully to training, he and Jo decided to make a big change: a move from Michigan to Idaho.
Brandon’s clinic in Grand Rapids had supported him for over 30 years. Some members of his care team felt like part of his extended family. So, when considering where he might move, he wasn’t only looking for a place to train. He needed a new care team.
In Boise, he gets the weather and terrain required for his training — and the ongoing support he needs at St. Luke’s Cystic Fibrosis Center of Idaho.
“Having to come to a new team that I knew nothing about and had never met was so scary. When I got here, they were so welcoming,” Brandon said. “It was such a smooth transition. And they understood what my goals are and really helped me fine-tune how to adjust to this climate.”
Brandon’s dedication has paid off. In November 2022, he finished well in the full-distance Ironman Triathlon in Arizona — 140.6 miles. He now has his sights set on his next triathlon, in Coeur d’Alene in 2024, and then will work toward qualifying for the annual Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.