Update: Heart Transplant Recipient To Attempt Kona Again

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Written by: Bethany Leach

More than a month after the Hawaii Ironman, Kyle Garlett just started back his Ironman training. Last month, he had attempted to become the first heart transplant recipient to finish a Hawaii Ironman. But his race was cut short when he missed the two-hour, 20-minute swim cutoff—by eight seconds.

“I had no clue I was pushing 2:20,” Garlett says. And when he was told by an Ironman official that he was done for the day, he didn’t understand until he looked at his watch.

“It was pretty tough,” he says. “I logged a lot of hours and miles, and I didn’t want the day to be over that quickly.”

Though disappointed with himself, he was encouraged by the support he received. He was ushered into the medical tent, away from the cameras, and an Ironman official told him that he would do better next year.

Garlett was invited to compete in this year’s Ironman World Championship—not because he had qualified or been chosen in the lottery, but because his story would be inspirational, similar to the father-son duo, Rick and Dick Hoyt. Garlett felt that he had let people down by not finishing this year, but having the invitation already extended to him for next year lifted his spirits.

After recovering in the medical tent, Garlett and some friends ate lunch at a restaurant near the finish line, and a server handed him a handmade card that the other servers had all signed. It read: “We still think you’re an Ironman.”

“It was a touching, cool moment,” he says. He keeps the card pinned on his bulletin board and looks at it before workouts for inspiration.

After taking a month-long vacation from training, Garlett started training again last week. He’s approaching his training for the 2010 world championships very differently.

“Part of my problem was that I perceived myself as a heart transplant recipient trying to do an Ironman,” he says. “Now I see myself as an athlete trying to do an Ironman, and I just happened to have a heart transplant.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t train enough for the race, but his attitude had been that he expected to struggle because of his heart transplant. Garlett says that he has to get past that. Plus, the last year was spent getting into Ironman distance shape. He can use that foundation to get faster and stronger, so that he won’t be cutting his swim, bike and run so close to the time cutoffs.

He’ll be training with the same coach; he doesn’t feel that missing the swim cutoff was any reflection on his coach. He plans to compete in the Lavaman Olympic-distance triathlon in March on the Big Island, and the Ironman 70.3 Kansas in June. He wants to do an Ironman 70.3 race to validate his invitation to the Hawaii Ironman next year.

Garlett has battled four bouts of cancer, has had two joint replacements, has received a bone marrow transplant and a heart transplant. He planned to finish the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 10, three years to the day after finding out he was going to receive a new heart. “When your whole life has been about comebacks, this is just one more,” he says. “This isn’t the timeline I had planned, and I’m OK with that.”

One of his biggest encouragements has been his wife, who also trains for triathlon. She plans to compete in Ironman Arizona this weekend. “The plan was that I would be an Ironman and cheer her on, but it’s going to be the other way around,” he says with a laugh.

His triathlon season ended short of his goal, but he remains optimistic. “It didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” Garlett says. “I have friends who said, ‘They should have turned their heads and should have let you continue. It was only eight seconds.’ I disagree. I want to be an Ironman, not an Ironman with asterisk. I want to be an Ironman because I really did it, not because I was close.”

You can follow his Ironman quest at Ironmankyle.com.

To read the story on Kyle published before the Ironman World Championship click here.

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