CLIMBING STAIRWAYS TO THE STARS
On Sunday, 15 November 2015, a fifteen-year-old schoolboy stormed up the 88 levels of the Eureka tower in the impressive time of 16 minutes, 52 seconds.
It was the second year in succession that Jaxon Urlichs from Manor Lakes in Melbourne’s north-west had pounded up the 1,642 steps that make the Eureka Climb the nation’s biggest vertical race. This year, his time was somewhat better than last year’s 17 minutes.
The climb attracts thousands of endurance athletes from all over the country and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. This year’s event raised more than $250,000 and attracted over 2,500 entrants.
Jaxon, a Year Nine student at MacKillop College in Werribee, lives with cystic fibrosis.
To suggest that he thrives on endurance events would be a gross understatement. In addition to his outstanding performances in the Eureka Climb, last year he completed the Q1 Stair Challenge, a mere 77 floor climb at a Gold Coast high-rise.
Earlier this year he also completed the Stadium Stomp which comprises 7,500 steps up and down levels 1 and 3 at the MCG. At the time he was infected with pseudomonas but only need the inhaled antibiotic Tobi as he had not lost weight, his lung function was not down nor was he feeling unwell. He still completed this gruelling event in just over one hour, including a sprint at the finish.
His mother, Megan, father, John and younger brother Logan, have watched in awe as Jaxon has taken on every new challenge without faltering.
It all began in 2014 when Megan arranged a four-kilometre charity fun-run for the Royal Children’s Hospital.
“Jaxon was going to walk the distance but then ran with a friend and managed, with no training, to run three and a half of the four kilometres,” said Megan. “Jaxon said at the end he really wanted to do the Eureka Climb so he and our friend trained together.”
His calendar of events now includes ten kilometre fun-runs. The week before the Eureka Climb he ran in the Great Strides event for CFV and the week after he ran in the Spring into Shape charity run.
With his daily training and regular events, there has been little need for physiotherapy as his lung function continues to strengthen.
Megan, a primary teacher and personal trainer says; “unlike many CF kids, Jaxon has been really lucky and only ever had one hospital admission and that was when he was ten years old.”
He was diagnosed at five weeks and, like most parents, Megan and John were shocked by the news. They later discovered that one of Megan’s distant relatives in northern NSW has a daughter with CF.
Fortunately Jaxon’s CF is relatively mild and his daily routine of medication is not as intensive as many others.
Younger brother, Logan, who is thirteen, does not have CF. “There are times,” says Megan, “when he reminds Jaxon to take his Creons (enzymes). Other than that, it’s a normal brotherly relationship.”
Logan has not yet become involved in endurance activities – he enjoys playing basketball and is deeply committed to his Xbox.
Apart from his endurance events, what else occupied Jaxon’s time? Like most highly motivated people living with CF, his day at school is only part of an amazingly hectic routine.
As Megan explains; “We have a very busy schedule – Jaxon has acting lessons, plays basketball in both under 18s and men’s with his dad – and there are piano lessons on the other days.”
It might come as a surprise to learn that Jaxon does not have aspirations to be an elite athlete; his ambition is to be an actor and writer.
His achievements recently came to the attention of local Member of Parliament and Victorian Treasurer, Tim Pallas, who wrote Jaxon a letter of congratulations.
Zoe has just turned 15 and is very excited about starting Year 9 at high school this year. Zoe has cystic fibrosis (CF).
“Zoe was diagnosed shortly after the standard heel prick test when she was born,” says Zoe’s mum Trish. “We were in the hospital daily for a week. We were educated, trained and given plenty of opportunity to ask questions. It wasn’t a good time for us; we had to learn how to accept it and get on with life”. Zoe became unwell at three months of age with bronchiolitis; a common chest infection in young children. Zoe spent a number of weeks in hospital – some of this time in intensive care. “Zoe’s condition really put into perspective how serious things can get in a short period of time,” says Trish.
Since birth, Zoe has endured bouts of ill health including pneumonia, chest infections and bowel issues. She and her family continue in their routines; daily care, hospital stays every three months for ‘tune-ups’, physiotherapy and more.
“As soon as I wake up, I do a nebuliser treatment (physiotherapy) for 15 minutes which helps increase my lung capacity. I take a heap of tablets before going to school and at lunchtime I take my enzyme tablets. I take more tablets later in the day, and when I come home I do a full physiotherapy session which can take up to one hour and I try to get some homework done. I have an overnight feed through a PEG tube, which goes straight into my stomach, so I connect that before I go to sleep. Before bed, you guessed it, another load of tablets. Some days I am just too tired to make it to school.”
Zoe’s ongoing tune-ups occur every three months and are a combination of inpatient visits and care from the RCH Hospital in the Home (HITH) service. This means missing a great deal of school. During these admissions, Zoe undergoes lung function tests, is given antibiotics, blood tests, scans and physiotherapy. “The work done by the team at the Royal Children’s Hospital is amazing”, says Trish.
Cystic Fibrosis Victoria (CFV) plays an important role in supporting members like Zoe and her family, offering financial support, respite opportunities, information and advice. “Our role is to support our families through the hard times and make sure everyone in the family is being cared for”, says the CEO of CFV, Karin Knoester.
“I love my dog and my tank full of fish. I’d like to become a vet nurse or an animal photographer,” Zoe says.