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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August Athlete of the Month - PART II

As promised here is the second part of my introduction to you of Mr. Rick Fitzgerald... GET INSPIRED out thre because this 56 year old machine is an example to all of us!

1) What is you sport/activity of choice? Why do you enjoy it?
Running, bicycling and cross-country skiing are my sports of choice.

I consider myself to be primarily a runner. I love so many aspects of the sport:
The freedom of being able to run anywhere at just about any time. I run through neighborhoods and on wooded trails. I’ve used running to explore new cities and to make new friends. I love the atmosphere of running events. I love the feeling of accomplishment during races and the feeling of satisfaction after going on “just a run.”

Bicycling offers most of the same satisfactions, with the added benefit of being able to cover a lot more miles in less time. I get a kick out of being able to get myself from one town to another using just the power I can generate on my own.

Cross-country skiing is basically a much easier way to go trail running during a Michigan winter.

I enjoy these sports because they are accessible to “everyday Joes” like me.

2) How did you get started in that sport?
I got started running in the mid-1980s. We were living in Muskegon, Mich., a community along the Lake Michigan shoreline. I worked at the local newspaper and one of the community hospitals decided to sponsor a run. As a way to promote the race, they offered a beginning running clinic, with advice and group runs.

Running was one of those athletic endeavors I had tried to get going on a couple of times without much success. This time, I figured out a way to stick with it my committing myself in print. During the summer-long running clinics, I wrote a weekly column in the newspaper about what I was learning as a beginning runner. Our “graduation” was a 10-kilometer run in late August.

I’ve been running every since.

As for bicycling … First I have to say I am not a competitive bicyclist. I’ve never participated in a bike race. But my wife, Cathy, and I have done lots of week-long bicycle tours over the years and really enjoy spending time on our bikes.

3) What is the latest milestone you achieved or plan to achieve? (Long bike ride, some race coming up or that you did)
For the last seven years, I’ve used my bicycle to help raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan. Each year we pedal 300 miles in three days to help raise money for this organization that grants wishes to medically fragile children and their families. This year, about 700 of us raised $1.5 million during the last weekend of July. We had five family members on the ride this year.

One of the neatest events of the year is a trail run coming up in September. It’s called Dances With Dirt and it takes place in Hell, Mich. It’s a five-person, 50-kilometer relay race that takes us, literally, over the river and through the woods … and through the swamps and over sand dunes, and …

The guy who designs the course calls himself the Head Goat and he’s certifiably insane. The event is exhausting and an absolute blast.

In March, I ran the 8 Tuff Miles rod race in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s this amazing race where you run (if you can call it that) from one end of the island to the other. It’s uphill for five miles, then downhill for three. In spite of that, I finished faster than I ever thought I could. The views are amazing and the location is stunning. I highly recommend it.

4) Tells about your clotting episode. Are you on blood thinners now? How long were you out of commission?
I learned I had a blood clot when I had a pulmonary embolism in May of 2005. We were attending a community fund-raising event with a group of friends. We were enjoying a glass of wine and some appetizers as we browsed through a silent art auction. Suddenly I had this excruciating pain in the right side of my chest. As it got worse, I had a hard time moving. I propped myself against a wall and suggested to my wife, Cathy, that maybe she should go get the car.

We decided to head for the emergency room, where we spent the next 4-5 hours as I was poked and prodded; tested and retested. After getting the pain under control with some pretty powerful drugs, we were sent on our way with no clear diagnosis. Maybe it was pleurisy, the ER doc suggested.

I felt OK the next morning and went to work. About 10 a.m. a radiologist called. He was reviewing my tests and wanted me to come back for one more test. Sure, I said, I’ll leave work a little and come by. No, you need to come back to the ER now, the doctor said.

So I drove the 30 miles to the hospital. After checking in at the ER I was ushered to into a small, dark room where they administered a doppler test of my legs. It seems, the radiologist suspected a blood clot and, as I learned, the most likely location is in the lower legs.

Well, it didn’t take long before the technician found the clot behind my left knee. That led to a three-day stay in the hospital connected to an IV drip of heparin and then the switch over to warfarin therapy. I went home and in just a few days, the chest pain was back and I was back in the hospital. This time I checked in for a full week-long course of herparin therapy.

The hemotoligist who treated me said I had a really big PE and was lucky to be alive. While I’m thankful for that, I don’t believe it was all luck. I think running had something to do with it. I was healthy and strong and I believe that helped keep me alive. He was never able to completely explain why I got the clot. Tests did confirm that I had one abnormal prothrombin gene, but that’s it. No other risk factors, no big swollen leg that I ignored.

Fine-tuning the warfarin was pretty easy for me and I was back on the bike by the end of June. By the end of July, I was able to participate in that Make-A-Wish bicycle ride, although I did cut the first couple days a little short.

I stayed on warfarin for about 18 months, then went on an aspirin a day. That worked well, until this May. Sure enough, about four years to the day from the PE, I suspected I had developed another clot. And it was running that tipped me off.

I typically don’t run as much during the winter, so each spring it takes a little more to get back up to speed. This spring it seemed to take longer than normal, but some days were better than others, so I ignored it. I ran the Capital City Half Marathon with my daughter, Sara, in Columbus, Ohio, the first weekend in May. We ran comfortably and enjoyed the day.

The next weekend, we went bird watching at Point Pelee National Park on Lake Erie in Ontario. Canada. On the way home I had this strangely familiar chest pain. I called my doctor Monday and later that week, I got another one of those doppler tests. Sure enough, I had another blood clot.

Now I’m back on warfarin. This time it’s for good.

5) When were you able to get back into your activity? How did it feel that first time?
I got back to running about a month after that initial stay in the hospital. It felt great to be active again. It was especially good because that shortness of breath – that I thought was just my aging body complaining – was gone.

6) What is your favorite piece of gear for your favorite activity? (Bike brand, running shoes, perhaps a running singlet or the Clot Buster's Running Polka-Dot Technical Shirt...)
I love my Specialized road bike. I did the first three 300-mile rides on a hybrid bike. What a difference those skinny tires make!

7) How much are you getting out doing your sport? (Everyday you do some training, 2, 3, 4 times per week)
Dances With Dirt is looming on the horizon, so I’m working out just about every day. I’m focused on running now, but still try to get into the gym and get on the bike during the course of a week, too. I try to get out and run in the morning before work, but tend to head to the gym or ride the bike in the evening.

8) What is your favorite food? Either generally or after a workout. For me there is nothing better than a Chipotle Burrito... 

I’m a breakfast fanatic. Cinnamon-raisin French toast or blueberry pancakes. There’s just nothing better than one of those choices with an endless supply of strong black coffee. Run, then breakfast. Ride the bike to your favorite breakfast spot. There’s simply no better way to start the day.

9) If you could go some place to visit and explore, where would like to go? 

National parks. I want to visit them all. We’re hoping Glacier National Park will be coming up next. Yellowstone is one of the most incredible places on the planet.

10) What would like to say to someone who is going through a clotting episode, perhaps very similar to yours? How can people return to do what they enjoy? Tells about your concerns and what you look out after as you got back.
Shit happens. Get over it and get on with your life. Don’t let the clot define you. Take control of your life.

For me, eating consistently – a salad every day – has helped me maintain a consistent warfarin therapy level. As long as that number stays in the therapeutic range, I just go on doing what I love to do. I run. I ride. I ski. I never was one to play contact sports, so I never had to give them up. I may see it differently if I loved to play hockey.

The one thing I did learn through all of this was to recognize the warning signs and to take them seriously. I knew something was wrong when those chest pains returned. Sure, you could say I was dumb not to head to the ER on the way back from Ontario. But at least I didn’t completely blow it off.

It’s up to you take responsibility for our own health. It’s not your doctor’s job to keep you healthy. He’s there to deal with the bad stuff. You have to take care of yourself. For me, that includes staying active, eating right … and paying attention to certain warning signs.

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MANY THANKS once more for your willingness to share with us your story. I am very lucky to have had the chance to meet you in person and draw on the energy and love of live that you radiate. I saw you running here in Columbus, OH this year... maybe next year you will be wearing one of the Clot Buster shirts to help us spread the word!

It is almot 10PM and I want to get out there and ride my bike... but considering that Junior may decide to wake up around 1AM I better get to bed.

Good night to all.

Thanks for reading,

The Clot Buster

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My 95th Triathlon Finish !!!

My 95th Triathlon Finish !!!