Don’t ever take your health for granted—do something positive about exercise and nutrition every day

One year ago, as I am writing this, I just finished a workout with positive thoughts that I would run until I’m 100.  But as I walked around the living room to recover I became so dizzy that I had to hold on to a chair for several minutes.  I had survived total blockage of the right artery supplying the heart and a resulting heart attack.  But my breathing wasn’t normal and Barb called my cardiologist who ordered more tests.  While waiting for results, my heart failed and my life could have been over.

Fortunately I was in the advanced cardiac wing of Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital and my amazing heart team was administering CPR within a minute.  It didn’t work so they got out the paddles and shocked me.  After a couple of tries, my “ticker” started ticking again.  My medical team installed a pacemaker/Defib unit a day later. 

Why did it happen to me? I had no family history of heart disease, healthy diet, and over 60 years of heart-healthy exercise.  It was my friend David Goddard, with an investigative journalism background, who came up with a connection: agent orange.  My Navy ship was deployed in areas of Vietnam where this chemical had been heavily used.  The VA has tied heart disease to exposure from this chemical.

But as I was locked down in a hospital bed for over 3 weeks, anxieties and doubts circulated throughout my mind-body network that centered on the basic satisfaction in life that running had delivered to me for over 60 years.  It wasn’t about finish times or competition—I had released myself from that two decades before.  From age 13, whenever there was a major or minor life challenge I had instinctively gone out for a run and finished with calming thoughts and a focus on the next step. 

Due to heart damage and my adjustment to medications I gradually increased walking for several weeks  (although I regularly  had to stop and recover from dizziness).   As I approached the date when my cardiologist, Dr. Adam Carlisle, said I could begin running, the mental stress built up and I craved the release that only running delivered.  My greatest concern was that this had been taken away.

I had coached a number of runners with various cardiac issues and had success with short amounts of running with longer amounts of walking.  So on that first run I used my “boilerplate” cardiac strategy of 5 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of walking.  It didn’t work!  After 3 seconds I was dizzy.  For over a week I could not run more than 3 seconds at a time with a 30 to 45 second walk. 

Yes I was frustrated by the loss of running ability.  But after building my fitness to the Olympics and maintaining a marathon a month schedule until COVID, I was shocked that I had lost so much in a short period.

But for the rest of my life I will remember that first 10 minute run.  In spite of the loss of capabilities in legs, feet, balance, coordination, cardiac output, and 60 years of physiological improvements—the mental boost was just as before! 

One year later I am more passionate than ever in promoting running and walking for physical and mental health.  I’m more motivated than ever to help others get into exercise, try run walk run and run until 100—the subject of our Book of the Month. 

GET MOTIVATED by participating in the origins of our sport (and western democracy)! Join the team at Phidippides Running and Greek-American Dean Karnazes and connect to the rich history of distance running with scenic views, landmarks, and a fun podcast.

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