Derek Fitzgerald

Derek FitzgeraldAfter over­com­ing Non-Hodgk­in’s lym­phoma, heart fail­ure, and a heart trans­plant, Derek decid­ed to enter the world of endurance sports. Per­haps even more impres­sive is the fact that before he got sick, Derek was­n’t even active and was over­weight. Since his life-sav­ing trans­plant in 2011, Derek has com­plet­ed over 80 endurance events, includ­ing mul­ti­ple Iron­man races.

THE CLYMB: How active was your lifestyle when you were diag­nosed with Non-Hodgk­in’s lymphoma?

Derek Fitzger­ald: I was diag­nosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma when I was 30 years old. After col­lege, the time and ener­gy I had giv­en toward being out­side and active was replaced with sit­ting at a desk and focus­ing on a career. I start­ed putting on weight in my late 20s, so by the time I hit 30, I was a very inac­tive and tipped the scale at an unhealthy 200 pounds.

THE CLYMB: How long after your treat­ment for Non-Hodgk­in’s lym­phoma did you devel­op heart problems?

Derek Fitzger­ald: My can­cer treat­ments end­ed in May of 2004. Every­thing seemed great for a lit­tle while, but three months lat­er I start­ed hav­ing trou­ble breath­ing, cou­pled with fatigue and dizzy spells. Doc­tors ini­tial­ly thought I had pneu­mo­nia, but after sev­er­al late night trips to the emer­gency room, a car­di­ol­o­gist sat by my bed­side and said, “I know you’ve had a tough year, but I’m afraid I’ve got some more bad news.”

I had gained weight dur­ing my can­cer treat­ment and was moti­vat­ed to get back into shape once I was declared in remis­sion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, by the time I start­ed to work out again, my heart was so weak that any attempts at exer­cise would make the walls start to spin and I would end up on the floor.

Derek Fitzgerald

THE CLYMB: When did you have a heart trans­plant and what was the expe­ri­ence like?

Derek Fitzger­ald: The hard part about a heart trans­plant is the wait­ing lead­ing up to the surgery. The way the trans­plant wait­ing list works, avail­able organs go to the most crit­i­cal can­di­dates first. So even though you’re exhaust­ed from fight­ing to stay alive and you know that you’re already sick enough to die at any moment, you have to hope to get even worse before you have a chance to get bet­ter. You have to main­tain hope while prepar­ing your­self to die. I went through sev­en years of heart fail­ure and was on the wait­ing list for the final four months. By the time I received my new heart, I was asleep for 23 hours a day and was with­er­ing away in a hos­pi­tal bed.

I lat­er found out that if my donor’s heart hadn’t become avail­able when it did, I would have died with­in hours.

My donor’s heart arrived on Jan­u­ary 3, 2011. Before the trans­plant, doc­tors told me the phys­i­cal effects are the equiv­a­lent of being hit by a truck—you wake up from surgery and your chest is being held togeth­er with glue, sta­ples and sur­gi­cal wire. You have breath­ing tubes down your throat, drainage tubes com­ing out of your tor­so, and cables insert­ed into your neck that run to the heart to mon­i­tor inter­nal pressures—it’s scary and tough, but there are some great pain med­ica­tions out there. The most pow­er­ful thing I expe­ri­enced com­ing out of my trans­plant was the over­whelm­ing joy that I had been giv­en a chance at life.

THE CLYMB: How soon after the trans­plant did you start to exer­cise? What was your rou­tine like at first?

Derek Fitzger­ald: I was using a walk­er to explore the hos­pi­tal with­in 24 hours of my trans­plant. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the atro­phy that had start­ed before my trans­plant con­tin­ued through the first few months of recov­ery and I dropped down to 128 pounds. I spent most of Jan­u­ary try­ing to regain the mus­cles to lift my head from my pil­low. If nobody was around to help me out of bed, I was stuck. I think it was prob­a­bly a com­bi­na­tion of bore­dom and bed­sores that led me to wig­gle my butt cheeks over the side of the bed, where I’d fall to the floor and begin drag­ging myself across my bed­room until I hit a ver­ti­cal sur­face where I could pull myself to my feet. Essen­tial­ly, that’s how it all start­ed for me: sweat­ing, pant­i­ng, and curs­ing up a storm as I army-crawled across my bed­room floor.

Derek Fitzgerald

THE CLYMB: What made you decide to take on the world of endurance sports? And did you ever think this was going to be some­thing you were going to pur­sue longterm?

Derek Fitzger­ald: Before my trans­plant, I had nev­er even run a 5K. I used to joke that I didn’t have the short-shorts for it and I just didn’t like being around that many peo­ple. Since my trans­plant, my only goal has been to keep myself in the best shape pos­si­ble; to be a good cus­to­di­an to my donor hero’s heart. Every day, I try to push myself a lit­tle bit fur­ther than where I was the day before. I nev­er expect­ed that mind­set would lead me into the world of endurance sports.

THE CLYMB: How soon after your trans­plant did you com­plete your first race/endurance event?

Derek Fitzger­ald: I ran the Travis Man­ion Foundation’s 9–11 Heroes Run 5K eight months after trans­plant. See­ing all the run­ners was intim­i­dat­ing at first, but it was also inspir­ing, espe­cial­ly when I saw the men and women who ran in full com­bat gear and gas masks. Dur­ing the race, I thought back to lay­ing in my hos­pi­tal bed, not being able to breathe, not know­ing if I would live anoth­er day, but there I was, out­side on a gor­geous day, run­ning and feel­ing amaz­ing. When I final­ly crossed the fin­ish line, I expe­ri­enced a com­bi­na­tion of feel­ings: I was thrilled at the sense of accom­plish­ment, and I was filled with hum­ble grat­i­tude for every­thing I had been giv­en that allowed me to expe­ri­ence that moment. My donor and I had kicked the tires and I was already curi­ous to see what else we could do.

THE CLYMB: Since then, you have com­plet­ed an impres­sive num­ber of endurance events and Iron­man races? Any that were par­tic­u­lar­ly gru­el­ing or had spe­cial mean­ing for you?

Derek Fitzger­ald: Every start­ing line I reach has a spe­cial mean­ing for me, but there are sev­er­al that hold a spe­cial place in my heart (no pun intend­ed). In 2013, I fin­ished Iron­man Lake Placid and became the first can­cer-sur­viv­ing heart trans­plant recip­i­ent to com­plete the 140.6 mile chal­lenge. I nev­er thought I’d be alive, let alone com­pet­ing in an Iron­man, so car­ry­ing my donor’s heart across that fin­ish line will stay with me for­ev­er. In 2015, I had the chance to ride my bike across the Unit­ed States while rais­ing mon­ey and aware­ness for can­cer research, heart health, and organ dona­tion and trans­plan­ta­tion. Dip­ping my rear wheel in the Pacif­ic Ocean, rid­ing through desert sun­ris­es and over moun­tain ranges until my front wheel hit the Atlantic has pro­vid­ed count­less life­long memories.

Derek Fitzgerald

THE CLYMB: What kind of train­ing do you do on a reg­u­lar basis? And is the type/intensity of the train­ing affect­ed in any way by the fact you had a transplant?

Derek Fitzger­ald: I train sev­en days a week with a com­bi­na­tion of swim­ming, cycling, run­ning, strength, flex­i­bil­i­ty and core exer­cis­es. My girl­friend and I also enjoy incor­po­rat­ing hik­ing and kayak­ing into the mix when we can.

I don’t think any­one expect­ed these kinds of results, not my doc­tors, and cer­tain­ly not me. One of the many chal­lenges heart trans­plant ath­letes face is the fact that the nerves that were con­nect­ed to our old hearts are sev­ered dur­ing trans­plant. That means that when we begin to exer­cise, there are no mind/body cues to tell our hearts to beat faster. We have to wait for adren­a­line to reach the heart to make it beat faster. Con­verse­ly, when we fin­ish exer­cis­ing, it takes longer for us to slow down the heart because there’s no con­nec­tion from the brain to say the workout’s over.

Nerve regen­er­a­tion is rare, nev­er guar­an­teed, and if it does hap­pen, it usu­al­ly doesn’t begin to occur until at least five years after trans­plant. Need­less to say, when my nerves start­ed to regen­er­ate with­in the first year, my doc­tors were shocked and could only attribute it to the amount of phys­i­cal activ­i­ty I was doing. Con­sis­tent exer­cise has helped my body and my donor’s heart work togeth­er in ways that nobody ever expect­ed and has made my life bet­ter than I could have ever imag­ined. My lim­i­ta­tions are defined only by where I was yes­ter­day, and each new day brings the chance to beat my own per­son­al best.

THE CLYMB: You recent­ly com­plet­ed the Iron­man 70.3 Ocean­side. What was the race like and how many have you com­plet­ed includ­ing this one?

Derek Fitzger­ald: I love des­ti­na­tion races and see­ing new land­scapes in ways that even most locals don’t get to expe­ri­ence. Liv­ing on the East Coast, it’s such a treat to race along the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia coast­line with the palm trees over­head. Com­plet­ing Ocean­side brought my total to five 140.6 races and five 70.3’s. I’m cur­rent­ly train­ing for my sixth full Iron­man this July in Lake Placid, NY.

THE CLYMB: Any par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge ahead you’d love to complete?

Derek Fitzger­ald: There are sev­er­al chal­lenges I’d love to tack­le: in triathlon, I’ve heard so many amaz­ing things about Chal­lenge Roth that it’s real­ly high on my list, and when it comes to run­ning, the ulti­mate goal has to be the Boston Marathon. I’m not where I want to be for that to hap­pen yet, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my life so far, it’s that any­thing is possible.

Helgi

 

Helgi
Hel­gi Olaf­son at the fin­ish line of the 2013 Iron­man Cana­da with a time of 11:01:29

An Iron­man triathlon is no small feat for even the fittest ath­letes, let alone one who suf­fers from arthri­tis. For the past 13 years, Hawaii-born Hel­gi Olaf­son has been bat­tling the crip­pling effects of Anky­los­ing Spondyli­tis, an auto immune dis­ease that attacks the joints in the back caus­ing severe inflam­ma­tion. But that has not stopped him from tak­ing con­trol of his health and body and com­plet­ing around a dozen triathlons. In July 2014 he com­plet­ed his sec­ond full Iron­man in Whistler, Cana­da. The Clymb sat down with Hel­gi to talk about the chal­lenges he has faced and how he wants to change the per­cep­tion of what’s pos­si­ble with ill­ness­es such as Anky­los­ing Spondyli­tis and arthritis.

The Clymb: When did you first get diag­nosed with Anky­los­ing Spondyli­tis (AS)? 
Hel­gi Olaf­son: I was 19, so that was in 2001. I was an active teenag­er, but not to the lev­el that I am now. I tried to not let it affect my lifestyle but it was real­ly hard to deal with the pain, espe­cial­ly in the morn­ings. Luck­i­ly I start­ed my adult career as a chef, which was good for me because it required me to main­tain a ver­ti­cal posi­tion, ver­sus a desk job where I’d be hunched over or oth­er­wise strug­gling to main­tain good posture.

The Clymb: What prompt­ed you to found the Hel­gi Olaf­son Foun­da­tion?
Hel­gi Olaf­son: I was active and I was able to over­come (AS) and still main­tain my life, but I was­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly tak­ing the best care of myself dur­ing my younger adult years. My father passed away from dia­betes when I was 25, which he got because he did­n’t take care of him­self. A few years lat­er I real­ized it was time to real­ly take con­trol of my health. I end­ed up mov­ing back to Hawaii and joined the Waikoloa Canoe Club and one of the guys was look­ing for a relay part­ner for the Lava­man Triathlon. I said I’d do it. After that race I went out and got a bike and start­ed get­ting into triathlons. I nev­er looked back.

The Clymb: What are the over­ar­ch­ing goals of the Hel­gi Olaf­son Foun­da­tion?
Hel­gi Olaf­son: It’s real­ly to pro­mote “exer­cise as med­i­cine,” as I like to call it, to show peo­ple that they don’t have to be intim­i­dat­ed by exer­cise. It’s all about lis­ten­ing to their bod­ies and being hon­est with what they need to do to main­tain their health. AS is some­thing that peo­ple will live with for the rest of their lives. It’s real­ly just all about how they deal with it. I feel that I’ve had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to become a “bea­con of hope” for a lot of peo­ple around the world. About once a week I get a new email from some per­son who has AS about how they start­ed run­ning or just signed up for their first half Iron­man and they want some advice. It’s nice to be able to have a net­work that’s grow­ing like that and know­ing that what I’m doing is actu­al­ly inspir­ing peo­ple to take con­trol of their health.

Helgi with Tri Team PDX
Hel­gi with Tri Team PDX

The Clymb: What are some of the Mile­stones you’ve achieved since you began the foun­da­tion in 2012?
Hel­gi Olaf­son: Com­plet­ing an Iron­man dis­tance triathlon with­in my first year of start­ing this train­ing was pret­ty tough. As far as the foun­da­tion goes, we achieved 501(c)(3) sta­tus (fed­er­al tax exemp­tion for non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions) in Feb­ru­ary of this year. Since I’m affil­i­at­ed with Tri Team PDX—my tri team and one of my sponsors—one of the things I do is help with com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment. Last year I was a “race for free” ath­lete, rais­ing $2100 for the Iron­man Foun­da­tion. An upcom­ing mile­stone for me is my first role as race direc­tor for the Port­land Pud­dle Jumper on Sep­tem­ber 28, 2014. It’s a ben­e­fit for juve­nile arthri­tis so we’re part­ner­ing with the Arthri­tis Nation­al Research Foun­da­tion and Ran­dall Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal at Lega­cy Emmanuel in Portland. 

The Clymb: You also engage in com­mu­ni­ty projects where you race. Why did you choose Pem­ber­ton over Whistler for your project dur­ing 2014 Iron­man Cana­da?
Hel­gi Olaf­son: I want­ed do some­thing again in Whistler, but dur­ing my research I found that Pem­ber­ton real­ly was in more need of assis­tance. I also heard that there was kind of a bad vibe going for the ath­letes who take up the roads train­ing in Pem­ber­ton. I can relate to that because I train most of the year on the island of Hawaii where the Iron­man world cham­pi­onships are, and there are two sides to it—there’s peo­ple who think it’s real­ly great for the econ­o­my and there’s also peo­ple who think it gets in the way and it’s not nec­es­sary. I real­ly thought I’d have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a dif­fer­ence because Iron­man Cana­da is a new event in the area, and in the begin­ning is when you make a last­ing impression. 

For more infor­ma­tion on Hel­gi’s cause go to helgiolafson.org

Lew Hol­lan­der reveals the secret of how he has been able to com­pete in long dis­tance races into his 80s. Accord­ing to Hol­lan­der, there is not a pill or any quick-fix, the secret is a good base and anaer­o­bic exer­cise. Hol­lan­der is an Iron­man ath­lete who has com­pet­ed in about 50 Iron­man races and 22 in Kona.

[via: Bleach­er Report]


 

Mem­bers, click through for insid­er pric­ing on dai­ly deals!

Fresh on the menu today:

adi­das Out­door: adi­das designs spe­cial­ty per­for­mance prod­ucts for almost every sport. With adi­das Out­door, the com­pa­ny uses its exper­tise to devel­op high-end tech­ni­cal out­door footwear and appar­el that give indus­try main­stay prod­ucts a run for their mon­ey. This col­lec­tion of down jack­ets, GORE-TEX out­er­wear, and wick­ing ther­mal lay­ers shows that adi­das has done their home­work. The result: tech-dri­ven appar­el that rivals old-school out­door brands. 

adi­das Footwear: adi­das designs spe­cial­ty per­for­mance prod­ucts for almost every sport. With adi­das Out­door, the com­pa­ny uses its exper­tise to devel­op high-end tech­ni­cal out­door footwear and appar­el that give indus­try main­stay prod­ucts a run for their mon­ey. So trek into the wild. This col­lec­tion fea­tures GORE-TEX boots, mesh trail shoes, and more. Jam-packed with tech­no­log­i­cal advances in fab­rics and soles, the trails aren’t going to know what hit ‘em.

 

Iron­man: You’re in a league of your own. No one push­es hard­er or far­ther than you. Iron­man knows this. These spe­cial­ly licensed prod­ucts are built to endure your train­ing rou­tines. Take a look at our col­lec­tion to find what’s right for you. We’re fea­tur­ing cycling shorts, rac­ing jer­seys, gog­gles, and more! 

 

Hyalite Equip­ment: For­mer­ly known as Pacif­ic Out­door Equip­ment, this win­ner of numer­ous Back­pack­er Edi­tors’ Choice and Out­side Mag­a­zine Gear Awards spe­cial­izes in seam-weld­ing tech­nolo­gies for dry bags, sleep­ing pads, pan­niers, and more. Hey! Stop drool­ing on your keyboard!

 

 

Ready for Recess: Launch­ing off the swing set. Play­ing in the for­est. Recess is still the best class in school. Do your kids a favor and out­fit them with shirts, shoes, and more from Bill­abong, KEEN, and DC to spark that ear­ly sense of adventure.

 

Men’s Fall Appar­el: Impromp­tu boul­der­ing sesh. Poach­ing stair­case rails. Scop­ing the incom­ing swell. You can rock these men’s fall styles from top brands like Arbor, Bill­abong, Hur­ley, and more wher­ev­er your active lifestyle takes you.

 

Sum­mer Nights: Women’s Jeans, Tops, Dress­es, & More: When the urge strikes for a post-work bike ride or for carv­ing long­board turns in the moon­light, these ver­sa­tile designs from Arbor, Bill­abong, Hur­ley, and more will keep you going deep into the night. Shop now to find that per­fect out­fit for between the seasons.

 

IN OTHER NEWS:

Gold Fever: Did you know?

On August 16th, (that’s today!) 1896, George Car­ma­ck and his native com­pan­ion, Skookum Jim, dis­cov­ered gold in the Yukon. They were camped on the banks of Rab­bit Creek when Skookum Jim noticed gold nuggets glint­ing in the creek bed. They picked apart the riverbed and dis­cov­ered they were sit­ting on the moth­er lode. They filed a min­ing claim the fol­low­ing day, kick­ing off the Yukon Gold Rush. In the fol­low­ing two years, more than 50,000 prospec­tors flocked to the Yukon in search of their for­tunes. It paid to get their first. By the time Car­ma­ck left the Yukon he had dis­cov­ered over $1 mil­lion of gold in Rab­bit Creek, which was lat­er renamed Bonan­za Creek.

 

 

 

 

As promised, today we cel­e­brate (and mar­vel over) the endurance ath­lete. If you’re com­mit­ted to push­ing your body and mind fur­ther, faster, and hard­er than most mere mor­tals, we fig­ure you deserve the very best on your body and in it.

Whether you run, ride or tri, 2XU brings you the best per­for­mance gear to keep you per­form­ing at opti­mum lev­els. We’ve got an awe­some selec­tion of their wet­suits, cycling and run­ning gear, and more, all at up to 70% off. Shop 2XU here.

You put out the call for kayak­ing gear, and we’re answer­ing with the most inno­v­a­tive kayak­ing gear on the mar­ket from Immer­sion Research. Staffed with peo­ple who love kayak­ing as much as you do, for over ten years Immer­sion Research has pro­vid­ed top notch gear and unpar­al­leled cus­tomer ser­vice. Fill your kayak­ing needs here at up to 55% off. The first 50 Immer­sion Research orders will receive a free copy of Bomb Flow Mag­a­zine shipped with their order.

You’re no stranger to demands and chal­lenges, and nei­ther are SOG and Tool Log­ic. With their spe­cial­ty knives and tools, they make sure you’re ready for both. Clymb mem­bers will receive up to 55% off both now.

As we men­tioned yes­ter­day, GU Ener­gy has real­ly tapped into what the body of an endurance ath­lete needs on the inside. They pro­vide per­for­mance enhanc­ing nutri­tion that’s con­ve­nient to use and tastes great. We’ll be shar­ing more infor­ma­tion on the sci­ence that goes into their gels, brews, and tablets through­out the day. You can taste for your­self, and shop our GU Ener­gy event at up to 55% off here.

Some of you may have noticed our new site lay­out this week­end. If not, take a moment to move around and check out the new digs. A lot of thought and care went into these changes, all with the hope that they will enhance your Clymb shop­ping experience.

If you have com­ments on ques­tions on the site changes, these or oth­er events, or if you just want to say hi, pick up an invite, or share a pic, please don’t hes­i­tate to stop by our Face­book and Twit­ter pages.

Remem­ber when you were in school, strug­gling with math, and won­der­ing when you’d ever need to know how to mul­ti­ply frac­tions in “real life?” Of course, we lat­er came to real­ize that under­stand­ing math­e­mat­i­cal con­cepts helps us not mess up a recipe, fig­ure out the inter­est on our mort­gage and invest­ments, and deter­mine which car to buy.

In research­ing brands for our upcom­ing endurance-themed event, we found the word “sci­ence” pop­ping up. We got to think­ing about what sci­ence had to do with being an endurance ath­lete. Turns out, a lot. Whether you’re train­ing for an Iron­man, marathon, or 25-hour moun­tain bike race, there is a sci­ence to what you put into your body, what is required, for you to go faster, fur­ther, longer, and hard­er than any­one else.

Thanks to the folks at GU Ener­gy, we learned a lot:

  • Though wide­ly debat­ed, sci­en­tists have found that caf­feine does improve per­for­mance. Click here to learn more about why caf­feine matters.
  • The body does­n’t sense dehy­dra­tion very well, with stim­u­la­tion of thirst occur­ring after the body has already lost 1% of body weight in water.  Exer­cise per­for­mance decreas­es with as lit­tle as a 2% drop in body weight from dehy­dra­tion. So there’s a small win­dow for ath­letes to respond to thirst before per­for­mance is impaired.
  • The body needs fuel whether you’re on land or in water. Though you can’t chow down while endurance swim­ming, there are ways to get the car­bo­hy­drates need­ed to keep you going. (More on those next week.) Also, sweat is an indi­ca­tion the body needs to hydrate, but that reminder typ­i­cal isn’t there for a swimmer.

 The body is a com­plex machine and when you decide to put it through rig­or­ous tests with endurance sports, the best way to keep it fine­ly tuned can be a com­plex thing. On Mon­day, we’ll share with you brands that will make the sci­ence of endurance sports sim­ple to under­stand. One such brand we’re excit­ed to part­ner with is GU Energy. They have com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing endurance ath­letes with the prop­er tools the body needs on the inside so it can func­tion at opti­mum lev­els on the outside.

This week­end I attend­ed the Iron­man Ari­zona event in Tempe.

Attend­ing an Iron­man event does­n’t leave one short on inspi­ra­tional sto­ries to take home with them. The cul­ture around these events and the peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing, vol­un­teer­ing, and watch­ing all feed into the ener­gy and inspi­ra­tion one feels when attending.

You have indi­vid­u­als that lost over a hun­dred  pounds while train­ing for the event. Peo­ple that knew that they need­ed to change their lifestyle and did it by prepar­ing for an Ironman.

You have the indi­vid­u­als push­ing through walls both phys­i­cal and men­tal with the help of com­plete strangers.

Peo­ple shav­ing off mas­sive amounts of time and achiev­ing their per­son­al best, includ­ing my cousin who shaved an entire hour off of his time and fin­ished 3 min­utes ear­li­er than his goal time.

There are entire fam­i­lies run­ning the event togeth­er cre­at­ing a group of ath­letes that span gen­er­a­tions includ­ing  a 77 year old com­peti­tor  enter­ing their THIRD Iron­man event of the year.

All of these sto­ries are awe inspir­ing and inspi­ra­tional in their own right but the one sto­ry that every­one at the event was con­nect­ed to and the one com­peti­tor we were all watch­ing was Rudy Gar­cia-Tol­son. Rudy has been pro­filed by Ironman.com and has an absolute­ly amaz­ing story.

As of this Sun­day Rudy Gar­cia Tol­son can offi­cial­ly call him­self and Ironman. 

We’d like to con­grat­u­late Rudy and all the com­peti­tors from Iron­man Arizona.

*****

Just a lit­tle heads up about our brand event this week. Dakine is our part­ner and because of the hol­i­day we are expand­ing the event by a few days with it run­ning through Sunday.

Remem­ber the event starts at 9am PST on Wednes­day. So make sure you get in ear­ly. As always this is a mem­bers only event. If you don’t have a mem­ber­ship to the Clymb send us a Tweet on Twit­ter or you can e‑mail me direct­ly at kevin.p [@] theclymb.com.