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Derek Fitzgerald, the first American heart transplant recipient to complete a 140.6-mile race

By: Derek Fitzgerald 

January, 2011: I was struggling to drag myself across the bedroom floor, heart pounding into my neck and ears. My body: purple-black bruised, uncooperative and atrophied, sweating under the exertion, with searing pain from the spot where glue and surgical wire strained to hold my chest together. It’s not the way most would picture someone training for their first IRONMAN, but that’s where it started for me. 

Ok, I’ve already gotten ahead of myself, so let take me take you back a little further…

Eight years earlier, surgeons had removed a tumor the size of a grapefruit from my intestines; and while the oncologists were hopeful they had removed all signs of lymphoma, it was determined that chemo was the smartest path for treatment. Sure, there were concerns—there always are when you play chicken with cancer by poisoning your body. What breaks first… the cancer or you? My doctors told me that there was a 2% risk of heart damage with my treatment, but the fact remained that they knew more about hearts than cancer, so we decided to take the risk to address the problem at hand. For all intents and purposes, the treatment was a success. I had outlasted cancer and was declared in remission. My family and I took a deep sigh of relief as we made plans to get back to a normal life. Unfortunately, three months later, we found the heart failure that would become my life’s next big hurdle. Over the next seven years, my condition would worsen to the point where I was unable to lift my head or lay flat. Breathing became a struggle and I had coughing fits so severe I thought my back would snap. I no longer knew if I would wake up whenever I closed my eyes, so I said my goodbyes to family and friends. 

Then, on January 3rd, 2011, I received the gift that saved my life: a strong and healthy heart.

So, yes, I started training by dragging myself across the bedroom floor. Eight months later, I finished my very first 5K. Over the past five years, I’ve finished over 80 endurance events, including a bicycle ride across the country and five full IRONMAN triathlons. I’ve made it my life’s mission to honor my donor’s gift, to step outside my comfort zone and live like my hero is watching. I created the Recycledman Foundation as a way to give back and help others, but the most important event to happen since my transplant has been the birth of my daughter, because while I received the gift of life, she is a true miracle.

While competing in the 2015 World Championship in Kona, I was introduced to HOTSHOT. I’ve been plagued by muscle cramps since I started this journey to health and the promise of not having my legs seize up was incredibly appealing. While I didn’t use HOTSHOT in Kona, I did train with it in 2016 and used it during two bouts of severe cramping on the bike in IRONMAN Wisconsin and used it again during the Chicago Marathon. In both cases, I drank HOTSHOT at the first sign of cramping and my muscles stopped seizing within seconds.

HOTSHOT has made itself an indispensable part of my race gear and will definitely be with me as I take on my 2017 schedule. Be sure to look for me at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside on April 1st, Escape the Cape on June 4th, Philadelphia Triathlon on June 25th, IRONMAN Lake Placid on July 23rd, and SavageMan 70.0 on September 17th. I can’t promise that I’ll give up my HOTSHOT, but I do know a great place where you can get it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE ON THE HOTSHOT BLOG 

7 Years and 70 Pounds Ago: Randy Lund’s triathlon story.  

Ultra Runner Nathan Maxwell:  “During a very challenging 36-mile mountain race this past year, I took some HOTSHOT during the last 10 miles. The cramping was getting very painful in my calves with each step, but once the HOTSHOT kicked in, it was almost like I had new legs.” 

Loosing 100 Pounds Wasn’t the Hardest Thing I’ve Done: Noah Moore’s ULTRA running journey starts from a moment of loss. 

 

 

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