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In a surprising new video posted on YouTube, multi-time Ironman and 70.3 champion, and 2019 Kona runner-up Tim O’Donnell revealed he is recovering from a major heart attack suffered earlier this year. The cardiac event took place while racing Challenge Miami on March 14, 2021.
“I was probably about two-thirds through the bike…when it basically happened,” O’Donnell said in his recap. “I started getting just chest pains across my chest, shooting pains down my left arm, then my jaw started to lock up…I just knew this was not a normal race pain. I thought to myself, is this a heart attack? I was literally in my [aero]bars asking myself that question in my head, and my response was, You wouldn’t be pushing 300-and-whatever watts if you’re having a heart attack right now.”
O’Donnell continued on in the race, though commentators noted he seemed to be struggling. He crossed the finish line in 11th with a time of 2:44:57. When he returned to his hotel, his symptoms progressed with the addition of nausea and vomiting. After consulting with his wife (three-time Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae) and a physician, O’Donnell went to a Miami-area emergency room. Within minutes, he learned he had suffered a massive heart attack known colloquially as “The Widowmaker,” where the left anterior descending artery (LAD) is totally or almost completely blocked. Without treatment, the blockage stops all blood flow to the left side of the heart. O’Donnell says his LAD was 80% blocked when he arrived at the hospital after an artery rupture, and doctors told him the blockage could likely have been 95-100% prior to the heart attack.
According to the American Heart Association, the survival rate following a widowmaker heart attack is only 12% when it occurs outside of a hospital or advanced care center.
“We were this close to not having him around anymore,” Carfrae says in the video–which you can watch in full below. However, O’Donnell said that since March, he has recovered–though he has not returned to racing and noted he’s been getting a lot of questions about what’s happening: “I’m doing great, heart’s doing great, I feel a lot better, so it’s OK.” It is not clear when he will return to racing. He plans to share another update and potentially an interview in the near future with more details on his comeback.
O’Donnell’s story is a reminder that physical fitness and health are not one and the same. He even notes that he’s one of the fittest guys in the world—yet this happened to him. His case underscores the importance of regular check-ups with a physician and a need to listen to one’s body to recognize the signs that something isn’t right. According to the AHA, warning signs of a heart attack include:
- Chest discomfort, including uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain lasting more than a few minutes. It may be constant, or appear intermittently.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As a service to our readers, we made this story available to non-members on what to look for in your own heart health.