Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Big Race

A mere 42 Kilometers and for my American family and friends 26 miles.
Shouldn't be that difficult. After all, that's a major part of what I have been training for; the most feared part of an Ironman; the Marathon. Not to mention the fact that I had run 10 miles in 1.5 hrs. so I should be able to do 26 miles in at least 3:45.

Race Day:
A balmy overcast 22 degrees celcius, well hydrated with water and energy drink, and armed with enough power gel packs to last me for 4 hrs., I was ready.
10 km in and 55 min. later I was feeling great.
20 km and 1:54 later I was on pace to break my 1/2 Maratnon best and feeling strong.
22 km; what was that twing in my back. Nothing to worry about.
24 km starting to feel the legs a bit but no concerns. Back is fine.
26 km quad muscles are starting to hurt but still optimistic.
28 km after that last down hill starting to wonder if the legs are going to hold up. Starting to walk at water stations.
30 km and 3:05 into race. Decision point; do I have even a hope of beating 4 hrs. with my legs in the condition they are in. Not a chance. Just finish the race.
32 km got to walk. Those hills are brutal.
Just 10 more km. If I can just keep my body in front of me my legs should follow.
8 km; 6 km. What's that I hear behind me. Sounds like a lot of cheering and singing.
I'm dying here and those I passed 10 km back are now passing me. The singing is getting closer.
Don't tell me their going to catch me to. And who is this Bill guy anyway. So what if this is his 10oth Marathon. I'm a Heart Transplant. Shouldn't that warrant some credit?
5 km I'm really thinking I may have to walk the rest of the way.
That's just great, Bill and his gang are passing me. What do you mean are you ok? Of couse I'm not ok. And how can they be singing.
I've got to try and stay with them. 1 more km and the biggest hill to climb. There's no way I'm going to run.
1/2 a km and all down hill. I think I can make it now regardless of how much my legs hurt.
Across the finish line in 4:15. Not exactly what I had envisioned.

Post Race Recovery
Despite attempts to keep moving, rehydrating and eating so as to keep the legs from siezing up it was to no avail not to mention the nauseau. Over the next three days just the simple act of walking would prove to be a challenge.
Within three days the strength to my legs returned although not to the point where I could run but at least to where I could get on the bike again.
The past few days have been a time of reflection and self analysis to determine if I should continue the trek to the Ironman. Could I even imagine finishing a Marathon run after a 180 km ride. Ken (personal trainer) does not seem at all concerned about my conditioning and seemed to imply that the way my legs felt after the Marathon was quite normal and could expect the same results in running the last leg of an Ironman. Not sure if that is comforting or not.
It always amazes me how an experience so quickly becomes a past memory that is soon forgotten once the pain has gone. So I choose to press on knowing that the toughest part of the journey is still ahead.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Do or Die

It's been a couple weeks since I updated my blog. Nothing to exciting to report since the Saint Albert 10 Mile road race. Coach Ken has been increasing my exercise times so I am putting in, on the average, 1:15 per week day either on the bike or the run. He has reduced the run and bike times over the past couple weekends to 1 hr. along with a swim time of 1 hr. (2200 meters). He has however put in an extra run on Mondays which was my day off. You know the saying "Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to do or die."
Last weekend I was allowed to take it a little easier in preparation for a VO2 test that I had today (Monday, May 12). Dr. Mark Haykowski, the Dr. that has been doing all the research on fitness and the transplanted heart, along with coach Ken Riess, wanted to get a accurate reading on where my fitness capacity is at so they have something to compare my VO2 race ready capacity that they will again take just prior to the Ironman. I have really appreciated all they have done for me to ready me for the big event. The test was done at the UofA Hospital in the Cardiac Clinic. Dr. Tymchuck (post transplant cardiologist) was also present in the event that something untoward would happen. If you have never had the privilege of having a VO2 test you are missing something. In layman's terms, a VO2 test determines how far you can push yourself physically before you collapse from complete exhaustion. I wished I had remembered to bring a video camera to capture this wonderful experience.
Going into the test I was somewhat tentative since I had not been feeling well that morning (headache). However, I was determined to do the test and push myself to the breaking point. As a matter of fact I made it very clear that regardless of when I felt I needed to quite they would not let me quit. They would keep me going. For 8 minutes (increments of 2 minutes each) the worked me up from a walk to 7.5 miles/hr. Then in two minute increments for a total of 4 minutes the treadmill was elevated from an incline of 2 to 4 followed by 3 one minute intervals with an incline at each minute mark. A minute and thirty seconds before I actually finished I felt like I couldn't go any further but Ken kept pushing. By the last minute Mark actually had to place his hand on my back to keep me from slipping off the treadmill. In my mind I wanted to keep going but my legs would not let me. In the end my V02 was a disappointing 55 mil/liter of O2 used. I was told that that level was in keeping with elite athletes and that I had not been training (e.g. intervals) to increase my VO2 but was training for endurance. I am still believing that I will reach the infamous 60 mil plateau before the Ironman.
This Sunday I will be running in my first full marathon (26 miles or 42km). I am hoping that I will be able to complete it in under 4 hrs. I understand that the course is difficult in that it is not flat which will be an additional challenge. I also understand that the fastest time posted for a marathon by a heart transplant from Ireland is 3:59. It would be nice to get parts of the run on video but I will likely be doing this one on my own. I will let you know about all the grueling details and time in my next posting.

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?