Alumnus Dreams to Ride Free and Breathe Easy

May 3, 2011

Alumnus Dreams to Ride Free and Breathe Easy


VALDOSTA -- Doctors told Brian Johnson, ’96, he would not live past high school graduation. The Georgia Power transmission analyst is 38. He and his wife, Christie (Byrd) Johnson, ’97, were not supposed to be able to have children. They did. And it was certainly ill advised that he ride a Harley Davidson across the country, but he is -- to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis (CF), an inherited, chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.

On April 15, Johnson and fellow riders embarked from Birmingham, Ala., on a 10-week, 14,000-mile trip that will take them through 43 states on his Nationwide Ride for Life. Along the way, the group will meet with thousands of people to spread the word about CF, raise money for families struggling to pay medical bills, and give hope to those living with the debilitating disease.

“I was driving home one afternoon and a motorcycle passed me on the interstate. I just watched it go on for the next mile or so and something was awakened in my heart. It was at this moment I realized my calling was to help and inspire others to live and dream, even though they may have this devastating disease,” Johnson said of CF, which inflicts more than 30,000 adults and children in the United States.

Johnson wasn’t born on the saddle of his chariot of freedom and independence. In fact, he had never ridden a motorcycle, let alone a Harley Davidson, before last year. But within months, he learned to ride, bought some leather, and even got a tattoo of the organization’s logo. CF Riders -- a man, a bike and a mission -- accelerated to more than 200 members and has raised thousands of dollars through fundraising rides and donations.

“CF is a progressive disease that literally slowly takes your breath away. No one is more knowledgeable about CF than someone who lives with it; therefore, we can take our stories and share them with others to give them insight into the need that cystic fibrosis warrants and to the dollars that are needed to fight it,” Johnson said. “As people are living longer with this disease due to advancement in medical science and new therapies, there is a newfound need for resources to support people going to college, family planning, and other quality of life issues.”

Read more about Johnson's story and see whether the CF Riders will be in your town to follow their journey, visit the CF Riders website, or check the organization out on Facebook, keyword CF Riders, and on Twitter @cfrider. The inspirational alumnus will be featured in depth in the spring edition of the Alumni Voice magazine.

About CF

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States and 70,000 people worldwide. A defective gene and its protein product causes the body to produce unusually thick mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections, obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.

In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.


People with CF can have a variety of symptoms, including:

Persistent coughing, at times with phlegm
Frequent lung infections
Wheezing or shortness of breath
Poor growth/weight gain in spite of a good appetite


• About 1,000 new cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed each year.
• More than 70 percent of patients are diagnosed by age two.
• The predicted median age of survival for a person with CF is in the mid-30s.

Read more about CF at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation