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.

What dri­ves us to the moun­tains? To the trails? To wilder­ness? These are the ques­tions Anton Krupic­ka asks. As he says, “We can nev­er have enough of nature,” quot­ing Thore­au. This video is all about tak­ing to the trail to expe­ri­ence what it real­ly means to be human, to get back to the pri­mal nature of our exis­tence, and ulti­mate­ly to expe­ri­ence nature first hand. Fol­low Krupic­ka as he races over 100 miles through the moun­tains while reflect­ing on what com­pels us to these nat­ur­al spaces.


You’re a run­ner, so you know this: run­ning is good for you. What you’re less cer­tain of is whether you should hit the pave­ment or head to the trail.

I’ve found trail run­ning to be bet­ter for my body and mind. And since so much has been writ­ten about the ben­e­fits of road run­ning, I want­ed to share a few rea­sons why you should con­sid­er spend­ing less time on the pave­ment and more time ambling along tree-cov­ered paths.

Trail run­ning works a wider range of muscles
A trail is often defined as a “path beat­en” through “rough” ter­rain, which makes it innate­ly more bumpy than the per­fect­ly-flat road. It’s also not uncom­mon for a trail to be spot­ted with tree roots and rocks, so you’ve got to watch your step. More sig­nif­i­cant­ly, you’ve got to bal­ance your body as you run over and around these obsta­cles, caus­ing you to use those small­er, less­er-used mus­cles in your legs (as well as core and arms). While the ter­rain of any trail can dif­fer, most often the sur­face of the trail is sig­nif­i­cant­ly soft­er than con­crete or asphalt, mean­ing that your step depress­es a bit each time, requir­ing you to lift your leg and use more mus­cle each time you take a stride.

Your joints will take less of a hit on the trail
Run­ning on any sur­face aside from a paved trail gives relief from the hard, unfor­giv­ing pave­ment. A Runner’s World Mag­a­zine arti­cle pub­lished in the sum­mer of 2013 ref­er­ences Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports med­i­cine expert and ortho­pe­dic sur­geon, who says: “Trails are going to take away a lot of stress from the impact that you’d nor­mal­ly get run­ning on hard­er sur­faces,” says Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports med­i­cine expert and ortho­pe­dic sur­geon. “Some of the forces that would nor­mal­ly be trans­mit­ted from the pave­ment up to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips are dis­si­pat­ed when the foot hits the ground on the trails because there’s some give there.”

The fresh air is good for you and your lungs
One of the best rea­sons to run on the trail is to get some fresh air—literally. Road­run­ners in rur­al areas may have less traf­fic to grap­ple with than those who run on urban ter­ri­to­ry, but for both groups, get­ting out into the woods for a run is bet­ter for the lungs. A bit of research con­duct­ed by sum­ma­rized the health effects of run­ning in pol­lut­ed air this way: “A 2004 review of pol­lu­tion stud­ies world­wide con­duct­ed by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bris­bane, Aus­tralia, found that dur­ing exer­cise, low con­cen­tra­tions of pol­lu­tants caused lung dam­age sim­i­lar to that caused by high con­cen­tra­tions in peo­ple not work­ing out giv­en what can be in the air, “peo­ple who exer­cise out­doors should prob­a­bly be more wor­ried” than many are, said Dr. Mor­ton Lipp­mann, a pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal med­i­cine at the New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Medicine.”

You can’t zone out, but you can get in the zone
Trail run­ning requires intense focus. Even if you’ve hit the same six-mile path for years on end, it ’s going to require that you watch where you’re going care­ful­ly. This kind of focus is exhil­a­rat­ing and ener­giz­ing. What’s more, the trail doesn’t have all of the road­blocks, stop lights and cars to watch out for, mak­ing it eas­i­er to get in the zone and enjoy a more stream­lined run. You may even hit a new PR.

Being in nature is good for you
Trail run­ning takes us up the moun­tain, over the riv­er, and through the woods, and that often gives us a much more scenic view than we could ever hope for on an urban jaunt on the road. And if the scenery isn’t enough to sway you to the side of trail run­ners, per­haps the fact that nature is good for the emo­tion­al and men­tal well being of all humans will be. An arti­cle pub­lished by Har­vard Med­ical School states this: “Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Essex in Eng­land are advanc­ing the notion that exer­cis­ing in the pres­ence of nature has added ben­e­fit, par­tic­u­lar­ly for men­tal health. Their inves­ti­ga­tions into “green exer­cise,” as they are call­ing it, dove­tails with research show­ing ben­e­fits from liv­ing in prox­im­i­ty to green, open spaces. In 2010 the Eng­lish sci­en­tists report­ed results from a meta-analy­sis of their own stud­ies that showed just five min­utes of green exer­cise result­ed in improve­ments in self-esteem and mood.”

It’s qui­eter and calmer
Get­ting exer­cise is not only good for your heart, but it also pro­duces nat­ur­al endor­phins that leave you feel­ing hap­pi­er and calmer. But the calm of a good run can eas­i­ly be snuffed out by the stress you feel in dodg­ing cars or hear­ing the jar­ring sounds of con­struc­tion. Trail run­ning offers an unmatched reprieve for run­ners seek­ing asy­lum from those every­day sounds. Accord­ing to a Runner’s World arti­cle about the ther­a­peu­tic qual­i­ties of trail run­ning: “Trails just have a way of clos­ing off the rest of the world and all of the chaos,” says Dr. Jer­ry Lynch, a Boul­der, Col­orado-based psy­chol­o­gist and author. “Trail run­ning is qui­et and con­tem­pla­tive.” Lynch even pre­scribes trail run­ning to his patients who suf­fer from depres­sion. “I’ve had sev­er­al clients over the years who were depressed and tak­ing med­ica­tion and it was­n’t work­ing. I steered them toward trail run­ning and they became more at peace with them­selves and found joy.”

kindler1You’ve been at it for as long as you can remem­ber, and while you know your love remains con­stant, your rela­tion­ship with it at times has like­ly become a bit strained, lack­lus­ter, or neglect­ed. Every run­ner goes through ups and downs in their rela­tion­ship with the sport but there’s no need to suf­fer through a breakup. Here are five tips for a life­time of hap­pi­ness with the sport you love to hate.

1. Switch it Up
If you’ve been run­ning for a long time, chances are you’ve got a rou­tine route — maybe even two. While this can be good, it can also get bor­ing. Try some new ter­rain and tech­nique to re-ignite some pas­sion in your run­ning life. If you typ­i­cal­ly run on the road, try head­ing out for a trail run instead. If you usu­al­ly run a ten-minute-mile pace, try chang­ing that very pace or incor­po­rat­ing fartlek or inter­val work into your run. If you always start by bolt­ing out through the front door, con­sid­er rid­ing your bike to a new route or bring­ing your run­ning gear with you to work and head­ing out from the office dur­ing lunch or after you’ve fin­ished your day.

2. Make it a Pri­or­i­ty
If run­ning has tak­en the back burn­er to every oth­er activ­i­ty in your life, the hon­ey­moon peri­od is over and it may be time to re-pri­or­i­tize. Do this by writ­ing down the miles you’d like to run on the days you’d like to run them or enter them into your Google Cal­en­dar. If you’re a to-do-list lover, add run­ning to your list and be sure to check it off once you’re done; you’ll expe­ri­ence pos­i­tive rein­force­ment every time you check ‘done’ or cross it off altogether.

3. Get Social
As in life and in love, bal­anc­ing time alone and with friends is impor­tant. If you’ve spent too much time hit­ting the pave­ment alone, bring a friend along for the ride. Make a new “run­ning bud­dy,” some­one who you can count on to join you for miles on a reg­u­lar basis and who will be hap­py to talk to you while you’re out there. Also, con­sid­er join­ing a free run­ning group in your com­mu­ni­ty. Many local run­ning stores offer group run­ning nights or have the infor­ma­tion you need to join one elsewhere.

kindler24. Make a (Race) Date
Sign up for a run­ning event such as an upcom­ing 10k or half marathon. You don’t have to actu­al­ly plan to race the event, per se, but sim­ply know­ing you’ve got a date on which you have to join many fel­low run­ners at the start­ing line will remind you to train and get back in the groove. What’s more, run­ning events are much more ener­getic and excit­ing than any run you can do alone, which may help remind you why you fell in love with run­ning in the first place.

5. Be Nice
Remem­ber to lis­ten to your body and your mind. If you’re hurt­ing, don’t force your­self to run. It’s nat­ur­al to take a break every once in a while. With that, don’t be too hard on your­self if you’re injured or sim­ply too busy, burnt out or pre­oc­cu­pied in your life. The good news is: run­ning will always be there when you come back to it, so don’t stress over missed days. That said, get back into it when you’re ready and rekin­dle that relationship! 

10 Types of Runners

Some time before or after choos­ing the right race, you need to know what type of run­ner you are. The options are end­less and com­bi­na­tions do occur. Use this help­ful list to start under­stand­ing what type or run­ner you are and your run­ning rou­tine will great­ly improve.

1219067221. Audio-book Endurance Run­ner
Are your thighs sore and are you well-read in the col­lec­tion of George Orwell? The long-dis­tance, many-pages, endurance run­ner enjoys the sto­ries that good books pro­vide, but can’t sit idle long enough to soak in the scenery. If you fan­cy your­self a mul­ti­tasker and a book-worm, strap on those run­ning shoes and plug in those ear­phones; the sto­ry goes as long as you do. 

2. Speed Queen/King
Hel­lo fin­ish line. If you get off on being the first to cross it, with miles of peo­ple behind you and your legs scream­ing for mer­cy, you may be a speed Queen or King. With a steady desire and phys­i­cal prop­er­ties sim­i­lar to an ante­lope, the only glimpse you want oth­ers to have of you is the back of your sneakers.

3. Silent Med­i­ta­tor
Whether you run to get away from it all or to be a part of some­thing big­ger, if you’re lost in a peace­ful patch of thought while run­ning, you may be the silent med­i­ta­tive type of run­ner. No need to bring the head­phones when you have a deep inner-psy­che to explore. 

1688271724. Map­per
If you use any GPS track­ing sys­tems such as Map My Run, Nike +, or Garmin Fore­run­ner, you might be a map­per. You might also be able to look up how far and at what pace you ran last week, last month, or maybe the past two years. You are the per­son to look for when search­ing for good routes and clas­sic runs.

5. Trail­blaz­er
Rocks, roots, and run­ning water; it’s all part of the game. The trail­blaz­er has light­ning-fast foot reflex­es and ankles filled with lit­tle cuts and leafy abra­sions. Hav­ing fun in the mud, the trail­blaz­er does­n’t mind get­ting a lit­tle dirty as they cross creeks and jump pud­dles. If this is you, just remem­ber to wipe off before get­ting into the car.

6. Bare­foot Enthu­si­asts
You feel your body is best in tune when it’s run­ning naturally—without the hin­drance of shoes. No rub­ber tech­nol­o­gy or insole ergonom­ics can replace a nice, clean foot­fall. And you prob­a­bly have the calf mus­cles (and cal­lus­es) to prove it. Go ahead, get run­ning, feel that earth below your feet, and watch out for all patch­es of poi­son ivy. 

1670802187. Portable D.J.
Pump up the tracks and make it some­thing upbeat. You have a sound­track for epic uphills and anoth­er for marathon pur­suits. You’re a run­ning radio sta­tion. You most like­ly have a well main­tained music col­lec­tion and been caught doing karaoke on your long runs. 

8. Munchie-Munch­er
Are you well-versed in the lat­est Clif Bar selec­tion? Would you win a blind taste test of dif­fer­ent ener­gy-gels? Do you con­sid­er your post-race food choice the most impor­tant deci­sion of your day? You under­stand the anal­o­gy of  your body being a machine, and that machines run best on the best fuel source.

9. Ele­va­tion Junkie
If you enjoy start­ing and end­ing your run with a gnarly uphill you might be a chron­ic ele­va­tion con­queror. You search for that sting in your thighs, the chal­lenge at hand, and that accom­plish­ment of mak­ing it to the top. The only down­side, or upside, is that one hill is nev­er enough; there are always big­ger climbs to bag. 

10. Escaped Con­vict
I don’t know how you got your­self into this posi­tion, but if you’re an escaped con­vict you’re prob­a­bly wear­ing clothes that don’t belong to you, you are pos­si­bly imped­ed by the shack­les between your legs, and you may hear dogs in the back­ground. In any case, you bet­ter keep running.