Sunday, September 20, 2009

It can only Happen to Me!

It has been said that if something bad or nasty is going to happen it is going to happen to me. Some people are just born to be unlucky. Although I don't believe in luck but that there is a design and reason for everything that happens, if I did believe in luck I would have to be one of those people that never win anything and if you had a room of 50 people and something bad was going to happen to any one of them, it would be me.
I bet I am the only runner that has ever been hit in the back of the head by a hawk. Years ago I was running out of town when I heard a hawk squealing overhead. I didn't think anything of it and continued running. The next thing I knew something, what felt like a 5lb sack of flower, hit me in the head. It stunned me for a minute and I was at a loss as to what it could have been. Then I heard the squeal of the hawk overhead again and saw that it was circling back behind me away from the sun. As I checked over my shoulder I saw the hawk begin to dive for a second attack. I headed into the ditch to find a rock or something to throw. Just as I bent over to pick up a rock the hawk brushed my hair. Once I had the rock in hand the hawk didn't bother to attack any more.
Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009 @ 6:00 AM I had an encounter that I will not forget. As some know, I live just outside of town. I enjoy living out of town because I can go for a run or a bike ride without having to deal with lights or traffic. However, training in the country also has it's challenges from dogs that think they can intimidate you to bugs that like to fly into your face, mouth, nose, and ears. I especially hate the little yappy dogs that chase you only as long as you have your back to them.
On this particular morning I had just headed out for an early morning, leisurely, 3hr. run. Now realize that at this time of year sunrise is not till 7:00 AM so it was quite dark. Also realize that the lazer surgery to correct my vision resulted in night blindness meaning that I limited vision in poor lighting. As I was running I saw a cat start to run from a neighbors driveway across the road. I thought it was cat because this little black blog ran like a cat and was low to the ground. As I got closer, within about 20 feet, what I thought was a cat was really a small dog. When I got to within 10 feet of the animal I thought, boy this creature really looks strange. I appears to be standing on it hind legs, either that or it had very skinny neck. I really couldn't make out what it was other than it seemed to be heading right toward me as if it was going to attack me or maybe just wanted me to pet it. I wasn't in any mood to stop and pet it. Besides, I didn't remember our neighbor even having a dog. My response to the dog was "go on, get out of here". At that the dog turned and headed back in the direction it had come. Then I heard a strange sound. Almost like the dog was shuffling it's paws. There was this sound like a squirt gun; Tsss, Tsss. Then there was this all to familiar smell causing me to gag and my eyes to water. Indeed, what I thought was a small dog was, you guessed it, a skunk.
Well, I finished the run, thankful for the wind and knowing that I couldn't very well go home until I had aired out. Colleen did some research to find out what could be done to get rid of skunk smell which meant submerging both my clothes and myself in a tub full of water and vinegar.

Beaten but not Broken

For the past 2 months I have been beaten but not broken. How do you maintain a positive attitude when life throws lemons, not cherries at you? When do you accept/admit the fact that ones body simply cannot continue performing at the same level it did in the past? When do you admit that physical performance is not simply attitude, desire, motivation, or will power?
The answer; when you quit trying. When you admit that you simply can't participate anymore in an athletic activity at any level. When you can no longer handle the pain or discomfort resulting from the activity. When you give up. Then you are broken.

Since my last entry I have continued to train. More importantly, I have recognized and accepted reality. The reality is that at this point in my life I do not have the ability to achieve the level of athleticism required for the activities and events I would like to continue participating in. I may not be able to achieve these levels at this point in my life but I have not given up faith that although I may not be able to do it today there is always tomorrow.

There are many other life lessons that I have learned in the past couple months as well.
1. Life is not fair according to our way of viewing fairness. Whatever God allows to happen, it is always just.
2. Every man, woman, and child, has the God given ability to make their own choice. A parent can only provide the envronment, training, and motivation to make right choices but in the end it is the child that makes the decision. At some point the only thing a parent can do is intercede (pray) on their child's behalf. It is not necessarily a reflection on poor parenting when a child makes wrong choices; even choices that may result in future pain.
3. Even the strongest, most independent, of individuals need to be accountable to another person and are accountable to God. Without accountability it is like training without a coach. There are those that train on their own, never experiencing the additional motivation and increased performance that accountability to a coach provides.
4. Don't become impatient or discouraged when life doesn't go according to your script. There is a purpose and reason for your existence. We may never know why difficult things happen, at least not on this side of Heaven. God never did answer Job's questions as to why He allowed everything to be taken from Job except his very life. Neither is God under any obligation or responsibility to explain his actions and plans to any one of us.
5. If life never had any challenges and if we never experienced any sort of pain we would not need to trust God or rely on God for anything. We would consider ourselves completely self sufficient. God proves himself strong in our weakness.

Monday, July 13, 2009

After running the Vancouver Marathon in May I began training for the Great White North 1/2 or 70 series which is to mean 1/2 the distance of an Ironman. I had aspirations of completing the event in 5 1/2 to 6 hrs. but ran out of energy the last 1/3 of the ride and the run. I ended up coming in around 6:20 which was only a few minutes faster than my first Great White North event. There seems to be a stop point about 3 1/2 hrs. into an event when I simply can't push myself to go any faster or even maintain the race pace I had set at the beginning. My heart rate reaches a certain point and that is where it stays (e.g. 133bmp). I ran into it during the Marathon and then again during the Great White North. As a result,my coach is changing up my program to increase distances and push me in the latter stages of my workouts to somehow teach my body that I can run faster during the final stages of a long run. We'll see if it works. I have really been pushing myself to show that I can change up my effort levels during a swim, bike, and run to drive my heart rate up and perform at a higher level. I will be competing, maybe participating is a better term, in the Canmore Triathlon this weekend. Colleen will be doing the sprint and I will do the Olympic event. It should be fun and I am looking forward to really pushing the limits of what I should be capable of doing.

Well I am sure that people get tired of all the exercise and training talk. On a different note, I am still involved in various transplant awareness groups (e.g. GoodHearts and Canadian Transplant Association). Silvio is the president of GoodHearts and has been doing an excellent job in promoting organ donor awareness as well as raising the profile of GoodHearts and raising funds for the transplant house. Unfortunately we have not been very active in mentoring other transplant recipients primarily because this type of service needs to be promoted and run through the Transplant Services at the University of Albert Hospitals. Without their support there are only limited opportunities to meet and work with other transplant recipients and their care givers. I am also helping the Alberta CTA with various events such as the fall picnic they have every year. Last year I organized a mini-triathlon. This year we just plan to have some field games and activities. Nothing too elaborate.
The Transplant World Games is being held in Sydney Australia this year. I was hoping to go and am sure that I could raise enough funds to go but I really wanted my family to be able to go as well butcan't afford it at this point and really don't want to go on my own.

Still struggling with muscle soreness from the effects of Lipitor (Statins). There have been reports that there is real uncertainty around the long term effects of statins on the muscles. I just know that the drug makes it very difficult to run. I have ordered a book about preventing and reversing heart disease which deals with lowering cholesterol levels through diet. I am hoping that by following the dietary plan in this book I will be able to manage my cholesterol naturally without the Lipitor.

Signing off for now; happy swimming, riding and running.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

BMO Vancouver Marathon

Well, after 5 months of running in doors on the treadmill, which by the way I broke from wear and tear, and 1 month of running outside, we (Colleen my wife; Ken Riess my coach; and Dr. Mark Haykowsky (chief researcher University of Alberta) headed out to Vancouver. It was a great experience to have both Ken and Mark running with me for the marathon while Colleen ran the 8K.

Colleen and I arrived in Vancouver early Friday afternoon on May 1. Amber Kendall, the media relations person for the BMO Vancouver Marathon had mentioned my story to BC Global who wanted to try and set up a taped interview. The challenge was that Colleen and I were supposed to be picked up by my sister and brother-in-law from the airport and spend the evening and Sat. morning at their place in Ferndale Washington. BC Global asked if it might be possible to do something as soon as we arrived. When we landed BC Global was there to meet us. They took us to a park where they then did the interview and shoot. I was pleased that they made sure to include the reason I was running the BMO Vancouver Marathon which was to make people aware that organ donations work and the need for each person to agree and let their families know that they want to donate their organs.

I had verbally stated that my goal was to run the Marathon in 3:45 minutes which meant the additional pressure to perform. At the same time I wasn't so concerned about missing the mark since I believee that sometimes you have to set your sights high in order to achieve your goals.

We were ahead of 3:40 group and the 3:45 group up to about the half way point (21K) when, if I remember correctly, the 3:40 pace group passed us. Then at about the 28 or 30K point Mark took off, ending up beating me by 3 minutes the bum. The 3:45 pace group must have passed me. Things were kind of a blur at that point and I remember thinking; "I can't remember the 3:45 pace group passing me they must still be behind me so I should be ok". I remembered that it was at the 28K point in the Red Deer Marathon (Woody's RV Challenge) that I really started having trouble with my legs and ended up walking a lot in the last 12K. Although my legs were not that sore over the last 12K of the Vancouver Marathon I simply ran out of energy. It was like my mind and will to keep running were disconnected. As hard as I tried I couldn't seem to keep my legs going so over the last 10K and 8K particularly I must have walked a total of 6 times, including water stations, and must have lost about 10 minutes.

My final time was just over 4:01. Not a bad time considering I beat my previous time by 17 minutes.

I am encouraged by the fact that my legs were not hurting that much at the end and after the race. The quads were sore for a couple days but nothing like the previous marathon and not even close to what they were after the Ironman. At the same I would still like to strive for running a Marathon in 3:45 which means I will need to focus more on longer distance running and times according to coach Ken Riess. The next attempt will likely be the Okanagan Marathon in October giving me about 6 months to prepare.

I will be doing some bike touring and triathlons this summer which will take some time away from the running but we will be concentrating more so on the running than the swimming and riding.

I went out for 1 1/2 hrs. on the bike today and felt good beating my best ride time last year for the same distance by about 10 minutes. I was quite suprised and encouraged at how strong the legs felt.

This past Saturday evening (May 9th, 09) I was privileged to speak at the GoodHearts Mentoring Foundation Transplant House fund raiser. There were a number of Cardiologists represented from the University of Alberta Hospitals and the new Mazenkowsky Heart Institute. there were also a number of transplant related support groups represented such as Transplant Services and the HOPE Program from the University of Alberta Hospitals. There was a good number of people with $11,000 being raised to provide assistance to those transplant candidates and recipients need financial support for housing while in Edmonton.

I have found that with the various interviews and speaking engagements that I lose focus on my training and the events I am preparing for. It will be good now to concentrate solely on training. I am determined as ever to keep moving forward and improve my times with the help of those that have gotten me this far. I look forward to the next 5 yrs. of training.

I had hoped to compete in the World Transplant Games this year in Sidney Australia however, it looks like that is not going to be possible. Maybe some day, when the games are closer to home, I will be able to compete for Canada.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marathon Record (3:45)

I know, it has been a while since my last post.
No I haven't fallen off the face of the earth and no I haven't quit running, riding, and swimming.
Never mind the fact that I'm not sure of the best way to manage these blog things. Do you just keep posting on the same blog for the rest of your life or do you start new blogs?

There are always new goals to work toward and records to achieve whether a personal best or a record set by another. In the past the personal best or record would have been all that mattered but I have come to realize that the end result is not the all and be-all but it is the journey and the people you meet on the way. At the same time, people need goals to keep them focused and on the end objective.

Over the past 4 months or so I have been training for the BMO Vancouver Marathon. This Sunday (May 3, 2009) is the date of the race. The exciting thing about this event is that Dr. Mark Haykowsky and Ken Riess (Coach) will be running with me. Our goal is to run the 42K (26 miles) in 3:45 beating what we believe to be the record set by a Heart Transplant from Ireland.
It will also be great to have my wife, Colleen, along who will be running the 8K. As a matter of fact Colleen is training to do a sprint triathlon this summer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

First Race of 2009

Today I ran my first Race of 2009; The Edmonton Hypothermic Half.
The significance of this race was not so much the fact that it was the first run (1/2 Marathon) of the season but that my good friend and Heart Researcher Dr. Mark Haykowsky, along with our coach Ken Riess ran with me. The sick thing is that Mark has only been running for 5 months and was out running me. Somehow doesn't seem quite fair. Of course I was running with a broken toe which, sounds like a good excuse, but in reality didn't hinder my running. I did find that my quads were getting quite sore by the 15 km mark and knew that any further than 21 km would have resulted in the IT band tightening, which is something that happens in long races and has become really frustrating. I've not given up hope though in finding some way to deal with the muscle fatigue and lactic acid build up on longer runs.
The positive thing is that my legs are not as sore as they usually are which is a good sign.
My next challenge is to run another Marathon (Vancouver Marathon May 3rd) with the goal of beating the 4 hr. mark. I know it is possible if I can just figure out a way to solve the muscle fatigue in the legs.
Overall health wise I can't complain. I have struggle with additional and different health issues so far this year that I have not had to deal with in the past. Unlike so many other transplants, in comparison it has not been anything serious.
Recently I had to take some time to re-evaluate priorities in my life. I had found that the pressure I was putting on myself to exercise had really distorted my view of life in that regardless of how I was feeling, not exercising was not an option. Thanks to the loving counsel of my wife I have begun to realize that who I am is not based on what I do but in knowing and being who God created me to be. In other words, rather than focusing my attention and priorities on a task or a goal, focusing on that which is most important, the relationships built and developed along the way; expecially my relationship with God, family, and friends. I have recognized that just need to be intead of always doing. It is ok to just sit and build relationship.
Who said that old Dogs can't learn new tricks.
That's about it for now. I still would like to go to the World Transplant Games but that will depend on whether God makes a way, financially, for me to go. As well, Lord willing I would like to do the Arizona Ironman in 2010.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'M BACK!!!!

I know, I know. It has been a while since I posted anything on my blog.
Be assured that my lack of postings has not been a result of falling off the proverbial wagon, in this case the exercise wagon.
After the Ironman in August I trained for and ran my best time for a 10km race on Sept. 16th.
Following the 10k race I started back on the road to training for various events in 2009.
The events I have determined to participate in, and God willing finish, with personal bests are the following.
  1. Hypothermic Half Feb. 09
  2. Vancouver Marathon May 09
  3. Canmore olympic distance triathlon Summer 09
  4. Great White North 72 km triathlon Summer 09
  5. Heart of the Rockies olympic distance triathlon Summer 09
  6. World Transplant Games August 23 Sydney Australia

2010 I am hoping to run another Ironman.

I did have a physical setback in Nov./Dec. when I got a severe case of the flu and although I was still continuing to work out it took a number of months before I felt I was getting back (e.g. Jan.) to where I was at pre-Ironman.

The health issues were my own fault, I had not gotten a flu shot and had not been taking very good care of myself, primarily not enough sleep, over worked and stressed. I did get the flu shot and got back to living a balanced lifestyle.

During the months of Oct. and Nov. I had the opportunity to speak a few words at the International Nurses Transplant Symposium where I was presented with an award for promoting awareness of organ donations. I also participated in and was the keynote speaker at a bonspiel in Grande Prairie that was organized as a fundraiser and a memorial for a daughter that had been killed in a car accident and whose organs were donated.

I am glad that thngs are finally slowing down. I had never thought that myTrek to the Ironman would have resulted in so many opportunities to share my story and promote organ donations in the process.

My Story

What stories inspire men to dream and more importantly inspire them to achieve their own dreams? Are the stories that attract and inspire men so exceptional and so far beyond the grasp of human ability that men can only dream without the hope of ever achieving?

It has been said that exceptional men are simply common men that find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Every day men all over the world (e.g. military personnel) find themselves in situations where they must either perform beyond their physical, emotional, and mental abilities, or die. Few men willing put themselves in situations where death, for the purpose of proving themselves extraordinary, is imminent.

What makes this story different than all the other stories of human will, faith, desire, determination, perseverance, strength, survival etc.
Why would anyone want to read my story? Is it any different than a 100,000 other stories of men that have overcome the odds in order to achieve their dreams. Maybe what makes a story unique and inspiring is not so much what was done in the face of overwhelming odds but the why and how any man, finding themselves in the same set of circumstances, has the potential within them self of achieving the same success.

It is my hope and prayer that my story will inspire people to not only dream but more importantly make their dreams a reality. It is faith in action that results in greater faith and action.

What did I do to deserve this?

I must have done something terribly wrong to deserve what happened to me on August 4, 1986 and which I have now had to live with for the past 21 yrs.
What did I do to deserve such a fate?
Was I abusive to my body?
Was I abusive to my wife?
Was I an evil man that God decided to punish?

A better question might be why not me?
I was no different than any other North American male. You will have to forgive me for labeling males in the same category of what I would describe as the typical North American male. I was egocentric in that all I wanted to do was enjoy life even if it meant taking time away from my wife of 3 yrs. so I could do those things that would provide the most excitement and self fulfillment in life. Week nights I was either, catching up on work, playing community league sports, or watching sports. Weekends, I was either, water skiing, playing football, camping, or playing golf. There was very little time for much else. Of course where I could I included my wife (Colleen) and those students I taught. Although I was not a partier in that I did not smoke or drink, I had an addiction to busyness and sport. Unless someone, or something, was to slow me down my life as a husband and future father was headed toward disaster. Then it happened.

What Happened?

In April of 1986 I came down with what I thought to be the flu. I had all the flu symptoms plus a few besides (e.g. aches, pains, nausea, migraines, fatigue to the point where I didn’t have enough energy to brush my teeth, lack of appetite, constant thirst). Common flu symptoms right? What I couldn’t figure out was why it was taking so long to get rid of this flu bug. Besides that when I laid down at night to sleep I felt as though I was suffocating and ended up having to sleep sitting up. After a couple weeks of nagging from Colleen I had finally had enough and went to the doctor. A doctor’s examination proved Dr. Dwight’s prognosis, as suggested to Colleen, was right, there was nothing wrong. However, the doctor did say that if I had difficulty sleeping that the evening I was to come in the next day for a chest x-ray and further tests. Wouldn’t you know it I ended up in the doctor’s office the next day. Upon further examination Colleen and I were called in for a private consultation with the doctor where he shared that there was something wrong with my heart. My response was “either fix it or just tell me what I need to take or do to fix it”. After all I was a fit and active 26 yr. old with a belief that all problems have solutions. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple.

After being admitted to the Hospital and having two cardiologists provide their diagnosis of the situation I was given the news that no person wants to ever hear; your condition is terminal and there is nothing that can be done to reverse it. You will not live beyond your 28th birthday. If you have ever felt total hopelessness where you suddenly realized that there is nothing humanly possible that can be done; that was the feeling I felt for two days. If you have never had a sense of real hopelessness, I liken it to being dropped off, by your parents, at a camp where you don’t know anyone and the resulting feeling of loneliness that is felt in the pit of your stomach.

After a couple of days I had come to terms with the fact that I had a very short time to live and was ready to make the best of it. Knowing and sensing that there were hundreds of people praying for me throughout North America resulted in a peace that could only be described as the hand of God. My faith was still in tact believing that whether God wanted to take me or spare my life was ok with me. Then one morning the Cardiologists paid me another visit where they suggested that I consider a treatment that could result in adding years to my life. How many years they could not tell me. When I heard their suggestion I thought they were crazy. Why would I consider such a ludicrous option. Their suggestion was something that only happened in science fiction and horror movies. The cardiologists still encouraged me to consider the option and take a trip down to Tucson Az. where, at the Tucson Medical Center Hospital, they were performing, what in my opinion, was experimental research on human subjects. Who could imagine, 21 yrs. ago, that doctors were actually taking out a live people’s hearts and putting in dead people’s hearts. In any case since we were living in Phoenix at the time we would make the trip and meet with the people that were performing these “experimental” procedures.

When we met with the transplant team coordinator I made it clear from the start that I had no intention of agreeing to such a procedure unless they could prove to me that I would have every opportunity to live a normal live. Of course normal to me was the ability to do all that I had ever done before the transplant. They assured me that I would and showed me pictures of a transplant recipient that was doing triathlons. It seemed us that we were being given a lot of attention but didn’t give it much thought at the time. We were introduced to the head transplant surgeon (world renown Dr. Copeland) and other transplant recipients that were doing well. We were strongly encouraged to consider the option of a heart transplant and at least go through the “work-up” to determine if I would qualify as a candidate. We went back to Phoenix still believing that transplantation was not an option and that we would simply trust God to work things out. Over the next week after discussions with Colleen and continued deterioration of my health Colleen checked with the insurance carrier for her group plan and miraculously found that they had just determined transplantation to be clinical and would cover the entire down payment and transplantation costs. This was confirmation to us that we should go ahead with the work-up. The results of the work-up were, on the positive side, that I was a good candidate however the bad news was that it was estimated that my condition was more serious than first thought and had only 2 months to live.

To make a longer story shorter, with lots of patience, faith and prayer I received the call that a heart had been donated and was given new life 4 days short of 2 months on August 4th, 1986. Over the past 21 yrs. there have been many challenges as well as blessings. Colleen and I have 3 healthy boys, which we were told was a real miracle since there were issues around the effects of the medications on our ability to have children. All three boys have grown to be fine young men with whom I enjoy many outdoor and sporting activities. Colleen has been a tower of strength through all this and continues to show great patience and love for me during those times when I am moody and irritable. For the past 3 yrs. I have been training and running triathlons with a life goal to be the first Heart transplant to complete the Ironman which I hope to be realized August 24th, 2008.

Why the longevity?

What do I attribute my longevity as a Heart Transplant to:
· A faithful, loving God and family
· The transplant team of the University of Alberta that has taken care of me for 20 out of the 21 years post transplant.
· Dr. Mark Haykowski friend and researcher of the effects of exercise on the transplanted heart.
· Ken Riess friend and triathlon coach who inspires me to push the limits of a Heart Transplants physical fitness.
· GoodHearts Mentoring Foundation members that inspire me, in spite of the physical challenges they face, through their perseverance, determination, and desire to live healthy and productive lives.
· The organizations that promote donor awareness and support my efforts in becoming an Ironman.
Without these people in my life I would not be alive today let alone training and believing that I have the ability to complete an Ironman.

Final Questions

Two final question remain to be answered.

What motivates me to keep pressing on?

Does a Heart Transplant recipient have the ability to meet the requirements of both a physically and psychologically demanding exercise program in preparation for and completion of an Ironman event?