by Dennis Beardsley
2019 started just like any other - researching the race dates, locations, courses and then lining them up to ensure sufficient recovery time. The 2019 goal race was the Tinman 70.3 in Tupper Lake. The course is a beautiful course and in 2018 I was itching for a bit better time so this was my year. I was training smart but I trained hard. I didn’t skip the workouts and I put the effort in.
The week leading up to Tinman, I was in Louisville, KY, for work. Got off the plane that Friday, packed the car and headed up to Tupper Lake with potential to get in the water because that is always the biggest anxiety driver for me.
I woke up race day morning (6/29/19) and was experiencing some shortness of breath and chest pain. I honestly thought maybe I was just nervous; this was, after all, my goal race of the year. I ran into my friend (fellow triathlete) John Slyer and he looked at me and said, “Dennis are you ok? You don’t look good?” The shortness of breath and chest pain I was experiencing didn’t stop as we lined up to the swim start. I checked my heart rate and it was higher than it typically is. I shook it off again as nervous energy and as the gun went off and I started swimming, I just knew something was wrong.
I got 150 yards into the 1.2-mile swim and my head, body, and heart aligned to tell me I needed to stop. Because I pulled out of the race and had shortness of breath, the Tupper Lake Rescue Squad at the race decided I should go to the Adirondack Medical Center to get checked out. **Shout out to both the Tupper Lake Rescue & Saranac Lake Rescue Squad crew and the Adirondack Medical Center medical staff - everyone was incredibly nice and helpful.
After a few tests, they ruled out a heart attack. Thank God! But to be safe and to ensure everything was as it should be, they encouraged me to go to my cardiologist at St. Peters Hospital. So at 6 p.m., long after the Tinman was over, the timing taken down, the bikes and racks put away, I was loaded into the ambulance for 3+ hour ride to St. Peters in Albany.
The following day, I met with my cardiologist, Dr. Putnam (excellent doctor, by the way). He said, “It’s time.” I was born with an aortic valve deficiency that I didn’t find out about until I was in my 20s. My doctor, at the time, said I needed to adopt a healthy lifestyle including diet and exercise. That led me to the gym and ultimately to triathlon. As I got more fit, I started challenging myself more and got into distance running and then triathlon.
Dennis with Jon Golden and Dee Fisher-Golden
As I got out of the water at Tinman, I recall thinking I didn’t feel right and it was a different feeling than I’ve experienced before in training or races. Just a few years ago, I would have been embarrassed to pull out of a race or bag a training day because I didn’t want to be perceived as a giving up or quitting.
But after hearing my cardiologist say, “It’s time. You have to have open heart surgery to replace your valve and replace your aortic root,” I no longer think or feel adjectives like, embarrassed, ashamed, quitter, or any other nonsense that I would have thought years ago. Now, I’m embracing grateful, lucky, strength, and recovery. On 7/12/19, I had open heart surgery - got myself a new mechanical valve and replaced root. I was discharged 7/16/19 and spent the summer recovering. I had an appointment with my cardiologist last week and asked if he thought I would be good for another Ironman. Got the clearance so looks like I’m headed back to Lake Placid in 2020 with a stop on my way at Tinman in June to complete what I started this year.
I want to encourage every athlete no matter age, ability, or fitness level to check in with your doctor and don’t ignore any feeling that is different than your typical pre-race jitters. As I said, I would have ignored this a few years ago. I would have been so focused on the fact that I trained for the race and I wouldn’t want a DNF on my record. But today, after open heart surgery and a renewed gratefulness for life and the ability to train and race, I honor where I am and all the things this body can do. Train smart. Race smart. But if it doesn’t feel right, listen to your body.