Saturday, July 12, 2014

How I Got A New Heart Valve and Learned to Love 5K

Let me preface this post by saying that I'm Catholic.  This is important later in the post.
My doctor told me that my second open-heart operation (to replace my pig valve with a mechanical on) was more risky and complicated due to the scar tissue they'd encounter from the first operation.  And the manner in which he said this - and kept repeating it - made it clear that he was very serious:  This may not pan out as well as we'd like.
So - back to being Catholic.  I regularly visit our church's adoration chapel, in which the eucharist (what we Catholics believe to be the actual body of Christ) is housed and on display for people to - well, to adore it!  After these very clear warnings from the doctor, I began visiting the chapel more frequently.
One night, it occurred to me that I had not been making good use of the gifts I had been given.  I'm overweight.  I used to smoke (but stopped right before my first surgery 10 years prior). I don't really exercise.  So, one night I made a deal with The Big Guy:  If I got through the surgery okay, I was going to train for and enter a race - a 5K to start.
Fast forward to the post-surgery days.  About 1 month post-surgery, I began going out for walks around the block in my neighborhood.  I can still remember how dizzy and unsteady I felt.
Two months post-surgery, I went for my first jog...ever.  I had NEVER jogged for exercise before.  I went with a good friend who not only jogs, but runs...marathons.  He was great.  It was clear to me that the speed with which I was 'running' was more like walking to him, but he never made me feel bad.  He was surprised when I had to sit on the curb after just a quarter-mile, but then he wasn't 60 lbs overweight and post- open heart surgery!
By three months post-surgery I was out jogging almost every morning.  I invested in real pair of running shoes.  Bought the right clothes - the kind that wick the sweat away from your body.  The works.  Then came C25K.
C25K is short for Couch to 5K.  The basic tenet is that following this program will get you ready for a 5K in 9 weeks, even if you are a total couch potato.  My program was through an app on my smartphone.  There's many of them out there.
Less than 9 weeks later I had actually jogged the exact distance of a 5K (3.23 miles).  I was pumped - and so signed up for my first 5K.
Just 1 year post-surgery, I ran in the Tex Mex 5K: A fund-raiser race to earn money to support open spaces in our area.  The best part was, the race goes directly in front of my house, so my kids and wife were outside cheering me on as I passed.
And I did - I "ran" the entire thing...slowly, but I ran it.  And I finished.  Almost dead last, but I finished.  I liked it so much I did it again the following year.
I had a running injury which kind of took the wind out of my sails for the next two years, but I am now getting back into it.
I don't write about this to boast.  But rather to point out that you CAN be active after open-heart surgery.  You CAN be active and, yes, be an athlete, even when you are overweight.  Of course be sure to clear everything you do with your doctors, as I did.  But, in the words of Nike, just DO IT!