From Couch Potato to Ironman

Going from couch potato to Ironman required a lot of changes.



With wife Deb prior to the swim stage of the Ironman Triathlon

I gave up smoking after a catastrophic event. On Friday, March 14, 2003, I was in my garage smoking my first cigarettes of the morning while I drank coffee. At 5:35 I stubbed out my cigarette and collapsed with a heart attack, and let me tell you, it hurt! I dragged myself into the living room, where my wife Deb found me and insisted that we go to the medical center. I wanted to stop at work first, but Deb wouldn’t have it: I’d had a similar episode the week before — which I chalked up to pleurisy. In the parking lot, I collapsed again. Nurses from the medical center came and called the ambulance, which took me to the ER. I was 51 years old.

Evidently there were uses for me other than dying in a parking lot from 35 years of abusing my body. I was certainly surprised by the events of that Friday morning, but it was no surprise that I had heart disease. I was a poster boy for bad habits. I smoked too much. I worked too much. Ate a horrible diet. My only exercise was finger calisthenics with the TV remote. I was a 5-foot-6, 200-lb couch potato.

Jim before his heart attack

The doctors in the ER saved my life; the next day I had a triple bypass. In my hospital room Deb and I promised each other we would take up a healthy lifestyle. I did a lot of web research and saw the American Heart Association had immense heart-related information. Along with the free eating-right clinics at the hospital, that website showed us new ways to eat and exercise better.

We converted our den into an exercise room and used it. I lost 50 lbs. in six months. By the end of 2004, I wanted to do something with all my newfound energy. Watching the highlights of the Boston marathon, I thought, ‘I’m in shape, I can do that.’ That’s when I discovered there’s a huge difference between "being in shape" and being a runner. Despite being in shape, I couldn’t run a quarter mile.

Determined, I signed up to run a local 5K (3.1 miles). You should have seen my sons’ faces when I told them! Between April and November 2005, I ran 17 5K races. In June 2006, I ran my first sprint triathlon event — 500-meter swim, 18-mile bike ride and 5K run. Crossing the finish line was such an incredible feeling that I did two more events that year.

In February 2007 I ran my first full marathon (26.2 miles) in Myrtle Beach, Florida, and when I crossed the finish line I cried because I didn’t believe I could do it. The next month — four years after my heart attack — I finished a half-Ironman® triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile ride, 13.1-mile run). And that was just the beginning. Since then I have competed in 22 half- or full-Ironmans plus innumerable 5Ks, 25Ks, half-marathons, full marathons, cycling time trials, hundred-mile rides, aquathons, sprint triathlons and Olympic distance triathlons.

Going from couch potato to Ironman required a lot of changes, but the hardest was changing my routine of smoking a few cigarettes with my morning coffee. I loved every one of those cigarettes! I think it’s in our DNA not to change, but I had to because I didn’t want to go through the pain of having my chest split open and sewn back together again. Pain is a great motivator.

Another big change was finding a new circle of friends who could support us in the changes we were making. I won the American Heart Association Lifestyle Change award, and that has drawn healthy people into our lives, as has running. No man is an island, and I have an amazing support network that helps me succeed.

I’m 62 years old, and I typically run four Ironmans a year, so I am in training for about 48 weeks a year. Sometimes it’s hard to swim laps in the morning — that water is cold — but I remember what one of my first trainers said when I was complaining about how much I hurt: "Does it hurt more than a heart attack?"

The answer to that is no, no training hurts that much.

Edit ModuleShow Tags


 


 


 


 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Special Topic Supplements

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Departments

Heart News

Heart health news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Heartfelt

Articles, poems and art submitted by heart disease survivors and their loved ones.

Life's Simple 7

Improving your health is as easy as minding seven simple health factors and behaviors. Tips and information to help you improve your health and enhance your quality of life.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These heart patients, their loved ones and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.