22 yrs. ago one of things that persuaded me to have a heart transplant was the fact that another heart transplant was very physically active and doing triathlons. Since that time I have had many opportunities (e.g. speak to people considering transplantation as well as transplant recipients) to not only speak to the fact that heart transplants are capable of doing the same physical activities as any other person but also demonstrate that fact. Now 22 yrs. post transplant I have met one of the ultimate test of physical endurance proving that there is no physical task to difficult that the transplanted heart cannot achieve. On August 24, 2008 I became the first Heart Transplant to complete an Ironman proving and setting an example for all those to follow that there are no limits to the level of physical activity a heart transplant can achieve.
The following is my account of the days leading up to the Ironman and the day of the event (Aug. 24, 2008)
After two weeks of tapering down in preparation we were finally on the road to hopefully realize a 22yr. old dream in the making. Much work over the past year had gone into preparation for this event from raising awareness of the goal, through various media interviews and speaking engagements, to be the first Heart Transplant to complete an Ironman, to acquiring financial support through sponsorships, and most importantly training.
Earlier in the week I had been contacted by TSN, who were the official media broadcasting group of the Penticton Ironman, who were interested in doing a special segment on me when I arrived in Penticton. Little did I know what that meant in terms of coverage of a Heart Transplant Ironman story line. Wed. August 21st the BC Transplantation program sent out a news release that was picked up by multiple media groups who then contacted me for interviews over the phone and upon my arrival in Penticton. Of those groups were three new papers (The Province, Metro News in Vancouver, Penticton Harold) and two television stations (TSN and BHCTV).
Thursday (Aug. 21, 08)
Upon arrival (Thursday) in Penticton we checked into the Orchard Pines Bed and Breakfast in Summer Land just outside of Penticton which would serve as home base for the three days we would be there. It was great to have our own private sweet where the entire family could stay.
When we arrived in Summerland we got settled in and headed to the grocery store. While at the checkout a couple in the line behind us placed a copy of the Province New paper on the counter and on the cover was a picture of a guy that looked strikingly familiar. There I was, the cover story of the Province news paper that would be circulated throughout the entire Province of British Columbia.
At 5:00 PM we had an appointment with TSN for a photo shoot which included my parents and 2 younger children (i.e. Darcy and Dylan) since Colleen and Donny would not be arriving till Sat. afternoon. I thought that they would simply interview me while shooting the video but what they were actually looking to do was more of a movie that they could edit and broadcast on TSN later in Sept. They also wanted to take clips for the Friday evening athlete’s dinner. As it was it took 2 hrs. to do the shoot with a number of retakes. I determined that I could never be an actor.
While at the lake where TSN took the shoot I met a couple of ladies that were walking their dogs. When I shared with them that I was a heart transplant recipient doing the Ironman in order to raise organ donor awareness they were very supportive and informed me that they were organ donors.
Friday (Aug. 22, 08)
Early Friday morning I went for a 45 to 1:00 swim where the Ironman swim would take place. Upon entering the water my first reaction was “this is really frigid”. At an average temperature of 32 degrees celcius over the summer I thought the lake would be a lot warmer. The first 200 meters of the swim felt like my face was going to freeze but as I got warmed up, other than a few chills with the water running into the back of my wetsuit I was fine. The cold water would most certainly cause cramps in my calves during the swim event of the Ironman.
I had intentions of driving out to Oseyoos to ride Richter and Yellowhead Lake passes however I ran out of time in that BHCTV had called and wanted to set up an interview around the noon hr. and had an interview with the Penticton Harold at 1:00 PM. The interview with BCHTV was held at the package pick-up location. After picking up the package and a change in race numbers so TSN could easily track me I then headed to the interview with the Penticton Harold.
Friday evening was the Athletes Dinner where we were given VIP passes which allowed us to avoid the 3 block line-ups, pick up our food upon entry of the Penticton Convention Center and sit at a reserved table. I was also interviewed by the MC of the dinner following the video that TSN had put together and played.
Saturday (Aug. 23, 08)
I was up early again on Saturday morning and headed out to Oseyoos to ride Richter Pass. There were three relatively steep hills but easily ridden In low gear so I wasn’t that concerned. I did find that the speedometer and cadence was not registering on the Polar unit and couldn’t get it working while on the ride so figured I would look at it when I got home. I then rode back down to Oseyoos for the van and drove the rest of bike route, although not the loop, back to Penticton. I had hoped to have enough time to also ride the Yellowhead Lake pass but ran out of time since I needed to get back to Penticton to check my bike in to transition and catch our golf round that I had booked for 12:00 PM.
When I got back to the Bed &Breakfast to pick up the boys for golf I was still not able to get the speedometer and cadence to register so I ended up removing the entire unit from the bike. It was extremely frustrating and put me on edge for the rest of the day. The rest of the evening was somewhat relaxing although I did spend some time getting my bags together for transition and writing emails. For supper I did a bit of Carbo load with a serving of tortellini. I was able to sleep well that night despite the worry that I might forget something I would need for the race.
Before going to bed that evening my son, Dr. Darcy Kroening, do some Kinesiology taping of my neck , shoulders, and IT band in preparation for the race. He did a great job using the Kinesiology instruction book that my Chiropractor, Dr. Lindford from Brentwood Chiropractic in Sherwood Park Alberta had lent me.
Sunday (Aug. 24, 08)
4:15 AM Sunday morning Colleen and I were up. My morning pre-race meal consisted of a banana, a piece of toast, and water.
I had mixed up and froze the Perpetuum carb. load drink that would hopefully carry me through the ride. I find that it is easier to ingest fluid than to eat solid foods or gels when doing any sort of distance rides. I did however cut up some power bars and threw in a couple gel packs.
On arrival at the event I checked in the two special needs bags which had certain food items for ½ way through the ride and run. I then got my number markings and proceeded to transition to inflate my bike tires and put my transition bags in place. When doing a final check of the transition bags I realized that I had not put in my race number and strap which was in Colleen’s car and she had left. I had to think quickly so I found a volunteer who would let me use their cell for a long distance call and gave Colleen a call. Fortunately she had her cell on and raced back to the transition to give me the numbers and strap.
The Swim (3.8 km)
6:45 AM the cannon went off for the 30 + Professional Triathletes who would do the swim in 45 - 60 min. the ride in 4 ½ - 5 hrs. and the run in 2 ½ - 3 hrs.
At 7:00 AM the cannon went off a second time signaling the race start for the 2000 + triathletes. I was given a white cap to swim with, of which there were only three among the triathletes, signifying that I was someone to be kept an eye on by the kayakers and volunteers manning the telescopes. With over 2000 triathletes entering the water at the same time and all headed to the first buoy, it was difficult to find a lane to swim without people running over me or hitting me. On top of that, for the first 200 meters I was fighting with my goggles trying to fit them so water would not run in. Once my goggles were in place it was time to settle in with my swim stroke. Easier said than done. I seemed like I was trying to find a lane to swim while at the same time staying out of peoples way throughout the entire race. The water was somewhat choppy in places which resulted in a few gulps of water. I reached shore about 90 minutes (right on my projected time) since the start feeling bloated from drinking half the lake and chilled. It was about 15 minutes from the time I left the water to time I grabbed my bike and left transition. I was not in any particular hurry maybe because I wasn’t looking forward to what I thought would be a 6 ½ - 7 hr. ride or maybe simply because I knew it was going to be a long day and felt that 15 min. would not matter that much. Just out of transition I stopped to pray with my family and my Dad prayed that the Lord would give me strength for the ride.
The Dreaded 180 km (110 mile) ride
It took a number of kilometers into the ride before the sickness to the stomach subsided and the chills were gone. Just outside of town I heard a motor cycle behind me which came up beside me and slowed. It was the TSN camera crew that was shooting video of the race. They stayed with me for about 10 km to get footage of me and then were off to do filming of other triathletes. I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race.
On the way south to Oseyoos there was a head-wind making my speed slower than usual. Since I didn’t have a speedometer I could only estimate that my average speed was around 28 km/hr. Richter pass was not that difficult. I had put a number of the green organ donation wrist bands on my bike to give out to the bystanders on the road and was looking for children I could give them to. When I came up to the top of the second climb on Richter pass there was a group of people with a girl of about 6 standing there. Although I was not quite at the top of the hill and really just wanted to get to the top I felt a prompt in my spirit (Holy Spirit) to stop and give her a wrist band. Getting off my bike I asked the little girl if I could give her the wrist band to which she turned to her mother for approval and her mother said to go ahead and take it. The girl’s father then came over and asked what the band was for so I told him it was to promote organ donations. He then asked what my name was and I told him it was Dwight to which he then excitedly asked what my last name was. When I told him my last name he told me that his father had told him about a man who had had a heart transplant and was running in the race. His father was a leader for a boy’s club (Christian Service Brigade) I was in when I was 10 or so. His father asked that he say hi if he should run into me even though the son had said that that would be a slim to none chance. I told him that our meeting was planned by God. A number of pictures were taken of the two of us for his father and I proceeded on my way.
I don’t know the exact distance to Oseyoos and over Ricther Pass but it seemed that the next leg of the trip to the halfway point took forever. Besides that what I thought would be the wind at my back turned and was now coming head on. Maybe some weather expert can explain to me some day why it seems that no matter what direction you may be riding you are always riding into the wind.
I don’t know what time it was when I finally reached the half way point and my special needs bag. I was too afraid to look at my watch. I had drank a full bottle of Perpetuum and I really wasn’t feeling like eating anything from the bag with my stomach the way it was but I stopped anyway and drank down a bottle of Boost, ate a couple of crackers and piece of meat from the Lunchable snack pack, and a chocolate bar (O Henry) that I only ate half of.
It wasn’t until the second half of the race on the way up to Yellowhead Lake that I ran into my family as well as my Ken and Mark. It was great to see them. What was amazing was that my brother, sister in-law and their family were also there and had somehow, not by chance, run into Colleen and my folks on the bike route coming up from their vacation in Washington. From that point on I felt a renewed sense of purpose and energy. I climbed Yellowhead Lake pass and from there it was all downhill into Penticton.
I believe my time for the ride was about 7 ½ hrs. which was just brutal. I can’t believe I sat on the bike that long and most notably that my neck was not killing me. I am sure it had to do with the Kinesiology taping that Dr. Darcy had done and thanks to Dr. Lindford.
The final 42 Km (Would my knees hold up?)
That was the question. Would the ride have such an impact on my hip flexors that I would not be able to run?
Transition was much quicker this time even though I was still not in that much of a hurry. Again when I came out of transition my family was waiting for me and I asked my father again to pray for me. We gathered together in prayer and I was off again.
It didn’t take long for me to find my legs. Coach Ken had worked into my training sufficient bike to run exercises so that there was some muscle memory to help me get into the run quickly. About 2 Km into the run I met a man by the name of Michael who was running at about the same pace and we struck up a conversation. I was hoping that we would be able to run together and encourage each other but a few km later Michael had to stop for bathroom break and although I waited a couple minutes and then proceeded quite slowly, periodically looking back, I didn’t see him again. I hope he was ok.
At about the 3 or 4 km point I heard what sounded like a skateboard coming up behind me and lo and behold there was Ken on roller blades and Mark on a bike. I couldn’t believe it. These two guys were crazy and committed enough to my success that they were going to be there for me through the entire marathon. Of course they couldn’t stay with me the entire time since I could be disqualified but what they would do is skate and bike on ahead to each mile indicator or aid station and wait for me. They would accompany me for a bit and then go on to the next station. They continued to encourage me which kept me pumped right through to the finish with Mark telling everyone at the aid stations that I was coming so they could cheer me on.
About 7-9 km from the halfway point my knees started to give me trouble so I began walking the hills; both up and down. The down side of the hills were the toughest on the knees. At the halfway point Colleen, my brother Dale, and I think it was Darcy, was there to encourage. I tried to eat something again from my special needs bag but really couldn’t stomach anything other than ½ a bottle of boost. The rest I left. I should have given at least the Lunchable to Darcy. From the half on I determined that I would set markers on the road to run and walk to. As I each kilometer and mile passed Ken and Mark continued to meet and cheer me on until about the 35 km point where they then took off to the finish line to wait for me. When I reached Penticton there was a call stations for announcing each of the triathletes coming through. I think this was then relayed to the Finish line announcer so they new which triathletes of note were coming in.
For the rest of the race it was run a couple blocks and walk a block until I reached Main Street where Greg McFadden (Production Manager for TSN) tracked me down on the motorcycle with a camera and took footage of me as I made my way to the finish line.
The emotion I felt as I approached the finish line and heard the announcer tell the crowd that I was coming was beyond description. It was the most exciting and exhilarating feeling I have ever had. Twice that of the feeling I had when I finished my first ½ Ironman. The people were clapping and screaming while the announcer called out my name and then said those long awaited words; “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. After I crossed the finish line I was asked if I was ok to do an interview so they took me back out to the front of the finish line, which they never do, and the race caller came down and interviewed me in front of the cameras while feeding live to the jumbotron. I will never forget seeing Mark there along the fence by the finish line cheering and hollering when I came out for the interview. I went over and he gave me a huge hug. After the interview I went back through the finish line area and met my family. Mark in his excitement jumped the fence and hugged me again. Once I had a chance to orient myself I was going to go get my transition bags and bike but suddenly became faint. I remember Ken and Mark calling for a catcher to take me to the medi tent. Once in the medi-tent I was attended to by the physician and a number of nurses. When they found out that I was the Heart Transplant everyone had been talking about they took extra care and attention to make sure that I was being taken care of. I was given 2 liters of fluid along with some nausea medication. I was very concerned about Colleen and wanted to make sure that she was ok and knew what was going on. When they finally let Colleen in to see me she was weeping bitterly and as we hugged she shared with me that she was afraid that I was dying. After 1 ½ hrs. I was finally given permission to go. A kindly Security guard for the transition area had helped Colleen collect my transition bags and bike so everything was there for us to take to the car.
It has been 3 days now since the Ironman which is still fresh in my mind and an experience that as Ken said will be etched in my mind forever.
Debt of Gratitude
To Ken, my coach and friend for the past 4 yrs., I would and could never have done it without your program and professional coaching. When I doubted my ability you believe in me and did not take my excuses seriously. Know that our meeting and subsequent coach/athlete and resulting friendship was not an accident.
To Mark; Ph.D. Professor, CIHR New Investigator and the one who knows the physiology of my heart and body better than any person alive. You were the reason for all this. The day I met you and was selected for your exercise study was the day that I somehow knew that you were the man that would be able to prove that I was capable of doing anything physically that any person with a non-transplanted heart could do. You were there for me from the start four years ago and you stayed with me right to the finish. As with Ken, our meeting and resulting friendship was not an accident.
To my family, children and dear wife; you showed me the patience, love and time I needed to train and prepare. You recognized how important this was for me and made the sacrifice to make it happen. You upheld me in prayer and encouraged me along the way. Colleen, you have fulfilled your vow of taking care of me in sickness and in health. Without you I would not be here today. I love you dearly and owe you my very life. My boys; I am so proud of you. You demonstrated the character of true humility and servitude during this time and have and are growing up to be men of God which is my only prayer for you. Mom and Dad; I know I have put you through a lot over these 22 yrs. I am sorry for that. Know how much it meant to me to have you there with me to experience this as well as how much I covet your prayers.
To all those that have had an active role in keeping me healthy and moving forward I thank you.
To the Post Transplant Clinic staff most notably Ilene Burton, Dr. Burton, Dr. Tymchuk; Dr. Lee; the technicians; you have always been available and taken care of me for the past 21 yrs. To Dr. Lindford and Janelle at Brentwood Chiropractic you have kept me on my feet so I could swim, bike and run.
To the various Transplant Organizations (GoodHearts; Canadian Transplant Association; Capital Health HOPE Program; BC Transplantation) thank you for your support both financially and through the giving of your time and resources.
To my co-workers at Computronix and Computronix. You have been most supportive of my mission and the time it has taken to accomplish that mission. You have walked along side and encouraged me along the way. A special thanks to Dave Neumann, Brad Werstiuk, Dan Boonstra, and Christian Obando who have literally run along side of me. You have been true companions along the way.
To Andrew Yskes for the great work he did in designing my slogan and sponsor ship logos for my tri-gear and t-shirts.
Finally to all those that have carried my burden and lightened my load by praying for me and encouraging me. St. Paul said in the Bible “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). You’re prayers gave strength to my arms and legs in the swim, strength to my legs and neck on the ride, strength to my knees on the run, and the mental strength to finish.
If I have missed anyone, and I am sure I have, please forgive me.
I pray that my story and life has been an inspiration to those that have read and seen it and that you have all expressed a desire to be organ donors and give the gift of life. More importantly I pray that those whose lives I have touched have seen my faith in Jesus Christ and have been moved to experience that same faith by which I have and am living my life.
God Bless as you seek Him.
HEART TRANSPLANT IRONMAN (Dwight Kroening)
One Transplanted Heart
One SPIRIT and One Goal