Young soccer standout Lily Paulson is a bit of a paradox.
The 14-year-old Gig Harbor teen stands out on the field with her speed and ball skills. She plays full 80-minute games without getting tired and attracts the attention of coaches from around the country. Even Brandi Chastain — who won the 1999 World Cup with a perfect left-footed penalty kick — noticed Paulson at an interregional Olympic Development Program and gave her some tips on staying at the top of her game.
Her soccer skills are obvious. Her cystic fibrosis is not.
Though she was born with the progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits her ability to breathe, she has never let it slow her down.
Paulson takes medications daily, and uses a high-frequency chest wall oscillation device (like a vest) to help break up the sticky mucous that gets trapped in her lungs.
She loves to run, and her doctors encourage her to do as much of that as she can. Thanks to her high level of fitness, her lungs are healthier than the average girl her age.
But it’s still a daily struggle. She and her family are determined to help researchers find a cure for this disease that affects about 30,000 people in the United States, and 70,000 worldwide.
So far, the Paulsons have raised $450,000 for research through the Great Strides fundraiser. They are hoping to add another $30,000 during this year’s event on May 5. Her mom, Heather, is the chairperson of the Gig Harbor walk. We chatted with Paulson about soccer, cystic fibrosis, and more.
Q. How did you fall in love with the game of soccer?
A. I started playing for the Happy Pandas at age 4 with a bunch of my friends, who I’m still friends with. They were my first best friends. One of my friends is Lolo Price. Her dad, Gary, was our coach, and he really encouraged me. He made it really fun and taught us how to be competitive. I couldn’t go to preschool because of CF, so that was how I met and saw all my friends. Then I met Michael Donne, another coach who really encouraged me. We played with him for three years.
Q. What’s your favorite part about the game?
A. I love to run. It helps knowing that running is the best therapy for my lungs. I want to be out there on the field every minute, and I never want to leave. People think parents push their kids in soccer. For me, it’s just that I always want to be out there playing.
Q. What is your medication regime?
A. When I’m sick, I do three treatments, and this thing called acapella. (An acapella is a hand-held device that the patient blows through to create a vibration within the lungs.) If I get a cough, I wait to see if it goes away on its own. My lungs are cultured every two months. The doctors stick a swab down my throat and listen to my lungs. They will give me antibiotics if they find something. The bacteria lives and thrives by eating healthy lung tissue. The sooner they get the bacteria out, the better.
I do my vest in the morning and then do two nebulizer therapies in the day. One is hypertonic saline (saltwater), and the other is a medication. I also take pills before I eat because my pancreas makes no enzymes to digest my food. (Which is common for those with cystic fibrosis.)
Q. Is it scary for you when you get sick?
A. If I get really sick, I get scared. But I don’t if it’s just a small cold. I don’t worry because I know that God has the perfect plan for me. When I think about that, I know that I am free.
Q. How does your faith help you deal with your disease?
A. I am so grateful that God gave me these talents. I give him the glory for everything I do. I don’t live in fear. I live in the moment. Instead of worrying about what’s to come, I just know he has the perfect plan. Even if it’s hard.
Q. Who gives you the most support?
A. My mom and dad (Tony). And my brother Cade (who is 16). He is the best big brother. He is so nice. He’s my protector.
Q. So soccer and CF have both played really big roles in shaping your life so far?
A. If I wouldn’t have started playing soccer, my life would be so different. The people you come across in your life change it so much. Coach Gary was like a father figure. And Coach Donne was a game-changer who took me to the next level. Soccer built my confidence. Even though I have CF, I know I can do anything.
The Great Strides fundraiser, benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Gig Harbor, is May 5. Learn more at fightcf.cff.org.