Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

A race for life: Double lung transplant woman sails Atlantic

From Stina Backer, CNN
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Thu July 12, 2012
Eight years ago Justine Laymond, 39, suffered a dramatic lung collapse and was told she would die unless she received new lungs. Eight years ago Justine Laymond, 39, suffered a dramatic lung collapse and was told she would die unless she received new lungs.
HIDE CAPTION
Beating the odds
Making history
Anything but ordinary
Emotional farewell
Raising awareness
Tough journey
Donate to save lives
The man with the plan
Motley crue
The line-up
1996 and counting
The race for everyone
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justine Laymond is the first double lung transplant survivor to have raced across an ocean
  • Laymond decided to take part in the race to raise awareness for organ transplantation
  • In the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race crews are made up by ordinary people
  • This year more than 500 people from 41 countries are taking part in the 40,000 mile race

Editor's note: MainSail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

London, England (CNN) -- Eight years ago Justine Laymond was told by doctors to say a final goodbye to her family -- she had, they said, only hours left to live before her lungs would stop working and her body shut down. But this July Laymond defied her medical fate and made history by becoming the first double lung transplant survivor ever to have raced across an ocean.

The 39-year-old from England, who has suffered nearly 20 lung collapses due to a condition known as Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), is part of a multinational crew taking part in the bi-annual Clipper Round the World Yacht Race -- the only sailing race in the world where crews are made up by ordinary people, many with little or no sailing experience.

This year more than 500 people from 41 countries are taking part in the 40,000-mile relay race, which started in August 2011 and is set to finish later this month. The line-up this year consists of ten identical 68-foot long yachts -- all sponsored by different cities around the world -- that are currently on the eighth and final leg of the race.

Laymond decided to get involved in the competition when she heard that the crew representing Edinburgh would have a relay team of transplant patients, surgeons and specialist nurses on its boat to raise awareness for organ transplantation -- something that saved her life six years ago.

"For years I suffered from chest pains but no one knew what was really wrong with me," said Laymond, who despite her pains led a very active life -- working at a gym and teaching children street dance in her spare time.

"When I was 31 I suffered a double lung collapse and was rushed to hospital. They referred me to a specialist who found hundreds and hundreds of cysts in my lungs and I finally got diagnosed with (this) rare condition," she said.

For years I suffered from chest pains but no one knew what was really wrong with me
Justine Laymond

The doctors told Laymond that, with no functioning right lung and only 30% capacity remaining in her left lung, she would be unable to have kids and that she would die if she didn't have a transplant.

"My world fell to pieces," said Laymond, whose condition quickly deteriorated after she was diagnosed and left her in a three-week-long coma fighting for her life. She refers to this period as her "dark days," as she was slipping in and out of consciousness while on life support.

In 2006, after 16 months of waiting and three false alarms, she finally received a new set of lungs in a 10 hour transplant operation, and she hasn't looked back since.

"I'm definitely a bit of a fighter. Because I had been in a coma I had to learn how to walk again and when I finally got out of hospital I decided to set myself daily challenges -- to do something different and to push my boundaries and defy the odds," said Laymond, who confessed that to date none of her challenges have been as difficult, or is ever likely to be as challenging as the Clipper race.

More from Mainsail: Solo adventurer says she's relieved to be back on land

Indeed, it was far from plain sailing for Laymond's crew on board the "Edinburgh Inspiring Capital" yacht, whose Atlantic Ocean crossing was a grueling affair plagued by tropical storms and rough seas.

With a weak immune system and only 60% lung capacity it was a mammoth challenge for Laymond: "Towards the end I thought I couldn't do it. The cold got into my lungs and I got so weak that I thought I might have to be airlifted off and go to hospital to get some fluids and real food. But the skipper and the rest of my team were so fantastic and supportive that I managed to hang in there."

Piers Dudin, skipper of the \
Piers Dudin, skipper of the "Edinburgh Inspiring Capital" yacht

Her skipper Piers Dudin was impressed by Laymond's determination and spirit: "Justine has done incredibly well, she had a tough race physically and she really grew with the race.

"What she is representing is hugely empowering to people with similar conditions and she has certainly showed that anyone can do it. I think the whole team can be proud of what she has achieved," he added.

The Clipper Round the World Race is the brainchild of Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to ever sail solo nonstop around the world -- a feat which he managed to do in a journey that lasted 312 days between 1968 and 1969.

Watch: Fastest man on water

He said he came up with the idea for the unique race while he was exploring Greenland in 1995 with British mountaineer Chris Bonington: "Chris was telling me how much it cost him to climb Mount Everest and I thought to myself 'that's a lot of money' and then I asked myself what is the sailing equivalent of climbing the world's biggest mountain and the answer was obvious, it's the circumnavigation.

"So I did some calculations on the back of a cigarette packet right there and then and I thought 'actually I could do a round the world race for half of what it costs to climb Mount Everest.'"

Hopefully my story will inspire more people to become organ donors
Justine Laymond

The aim of the competition is to give everyone, regardless of sailing experience, the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of ocean racing. The first race took place in 1996; it consisted of eight boats and saw 300 people take part in the relay competition.

See also: The enduring allure of tall ships

Since 1996 almost 3,000 people have competed in seven editions of the race, and although anyone can apply to take part, all selected crew members still have to pay a fee to join. It costs £10,000 (around $15500) to do one leg and £43,000 (around $67,000) to do the whole circumnavigation including four weeks of training.

According to the organizers some people have sold their houses and given up their jobs to be able to join the challenge, others have managed to participate without "any money in the bank" by doing fundraising events. The only requirement is that you are over 18 and willing to work in a team and able to motivate yourself and others.

Motivate others is exactly what Justine Laymond hopes her story will do: "I have learned that life is too short -- so if you have a dream you just have to go out there and do it.

"Hopefully my story will inspire more people to become organ donors. It only takes minutes to register and it can save up to seven people's lives. It saved mine. I'm here because I've been given the gift of life and without that donation it would never have been possible."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
MainSail
updated 6:05 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Personal submarines, jetpacks, even 'walking boats.'
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Over 300 miles from the nearest ocean, competitors in one of the world's fastest sailing races prepare for battle.
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
London's new superyacht hotel is so enormous, authorities had to lower the water level by five meters just to fit it under a bridge.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
His mast-walking stunts have attracted over 3.5 million hits on YouTube, but Alex Thomson just wants to get back to doing what he does best.
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Elizabeth Meyer talks to CNN's Mainsail about the "Armageddon battle" to restore the pioneering J-class boat Endeavour.
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Ship captains of the future won't be salty sea dogs with their hand at the helm, and the ocean at their feet.
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Like "Downton Abbey," Henley's Royal Regatta reminds its visitors of an England of old. But for how much longer?
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
VO65 'Dongfeng' Training in Hong Kong
Nine months at sea, one change of clothes, freeze-dried food and a strange language. Could you cope?
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
Can a $134 million budget and the royal seal of approval bring the coveted America's Cup back to British shores for the first time in sailing history?
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Bored of lounging on your superyacht in the Mediterranean? An increasing number of millionaires are now sailing their luxury vessels to the ends of the Earth, to get their kicks.
updated 12:13 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
He's one of the great landscape artists, but JMW Turner also had a watery passion -- and his maritime travels are being retraced.
updated 6:22 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
How do you get a foot on the property ladder, when you live in one of the most expensive cities in the world? The answer may lie in the water...
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Tue May 6, 2014
Quadriplegic yachtswoman Hilary Lister was saved from suicide through the sport of sailing. Now she is plotting a voyage across the Atlantic.
ADVERTISEMENT