The Road to Kona (and the Ironman World Championship)

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In January 2011, I was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from heart transplant surgery when I was given a gift from my co-workers… a metal arc reactor or “heart” from the movie Iron Man. As the owner of a tech company and having gone to see the movie on a company outing, it was a fitting and touching gift from the team. My body had been torn apart by the effects of my cancer and its treatment, yet lying there, overjoyed (and more than a little surprised) at being alive, I wondered about the triathlon of the same name and immediately laughed it out of my head. A 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had spent almost a decade going through my cancer journey. I was not healthy and I certainly wasn’t active. Before the surgeons found the tumor in my stomach, I was 200lbs and completely out of shape. In the months following my transplant, I would atrophy and fall as low as 128lbs. I couldn’t even lift my head from my pillow for most of that January. Being alive was more than enough; hoping for the chance to be active was something else entirely… but still I hoped. In March of 2012, I went on a family trip to Kona, Hawaii. I rented a bike and rode the same course as the elite Ironman triathletes. I managed my snail pace of a jog through the village of Kailua-Kona as I dreamed about what it might be like to cross the finish line of the world’s most iconic test of endurance.

Tin Man KONAIf you know me and my story, you know that I found Team In Training, the non-profit endurance training and fundraising arm of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It was with TNT that I trained for my first half marathon just 10 months after my heart transplant. It was with TNT that I completed my first olympic distance triathlon, my first 100 mile bike ride and my first marathon. In the past three and a half years, I have completed over 70 endurance events including three half (70.3 miles) and two full (140.6 miles) Ironman races. The training for all of these events was built upon the foundation that was created through TNT while raising money in the fight against cancer. In December, the organization that helped train me in triathlon and endurance sports, the organization that actively funded the research that helped save my life, selected me along with two other triathletes to represent them in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. I can think of no greater honor and no more appropriate way to make this dream a reality than with TNT.

This selection brings with it a responsibility to raise funds on behalf of LLS to aid in the fight against cancer – something I do gladly. I immediately knew that an epic award deserved an equally epic fundraiser, and so after just a few discussions, the Tour for a Cure was born. In June, I will go to California to compete in the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. Just after, I will travel to Los Angeles where my friend, Dave Madden, and I will hop on our bikes and start the roughly 3,000 mile trek back to Atlantic City, New Jersey. The entire trip should take around 45 days. Along the way, I’ll be sharing my story of survival as well as continuing my running and swimming training, since three weeks after I get back to the East coast, I’ll be making the trip to Canada to compete in Ironman Mont-Tremblant. For a guy that once spent years hoping to survive each night, it’s not just the athletic challenge ahead that makes me stop and think—it’s the simple realization that I am able to plan for a future I was certain would never come. It’s holding my baby daughter and knowing that I’ve been given the chance to see the amazing woman she’ll grow to be.

I am a survivor, and an extremely lucky one at that. As such, it’s my responsibility to honor those that haven’t been as fortunate and to do everything I can to make it a little easier for the people who will be traveling down those same roads. I will do everything I can, but I can’t do it alone. Over the coming months, I will be sharing more information on how you too can join the fight. For the most up to date information on these events, please follow me on Facebook. I hope you’ll consider joining me.

Thanks for everything.

Derek

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