Cardiac Athlete Lives

Tony Jennings

Location: Australia

The following account is a brief overview of the unfolding and continuing story of three family members of Cardiac Athletes, Coppertone, Intrepid MJ and ‘Tiger’-Lilli.

As I write this in February of 2012, I am a 49 year old father of three adult children and grandfather of two. Though not a particularly talented athlete, I have lived my life with a definite focus on physical fitness, enjoyment of sport and outdoor activity, eating sensibly, healthy lifestyle and encouraging my children to do the same.

For most of my adult life I trained regularly and participated in a variety of sports as diverse as surf lifesaving, kayaking, surfing, triathlon, cycling, mountain running, wrestling, various football codes, multisport racing and orienteering. I made a living in a series of careers that put my sporting and fitness skills to good use as a sea kayak guide, river kayak and canoe guide wilderness survival skills instructor, police search and rescue squad member and high angle rope rescue technician. I spent many years coaching and managing junior sporting teams in kayaking, surf lifesaving, cross country running and wrestling.

I guess most people that knew me saw me as either a fitness fanatic or a bit of a try hard athlete, having a go at everything and making the good athletes look even better. Although I was usually in the second half of the field in most triathlons or running events, sometimes at the very back. I could hold my own in a kayak or surf racing ski and had a few little wins here and there. Though I was never going to threaten on a national level, I still enjoyed training like a world champion and got much satisfaction in just taking part in any sport and reaping the fitness rewards.

I spent most of my life in pretty good health and had much confidence in the fact that I was super fit and from a cardiovascular standpoint I felt that I was in top shape. Even at the age of 42 while working in a pretty stressful frontline policing career I found the time and energy to train six days a week for the 2005 Coolangatta Gold Surf Ironman Race. This race is about the equivalent of a half ironman triathlon, taking the elite athletes about four hours to complete and over 40s competitors like myself, a little under 6hrs. Consisting of a 24km racing surf ski ( ocean kayak ) ocean paddle, a 3.6km ocean swim, a 6km ocean paddleboard section and 14.6km of beach sand running it is a gruelling test of stamina and ocean skills.

Having completed the event in October 2005 I was pretty ecstatic as it was an event I had been dreaming about doing for many years. I guess you could say that I was at the peak of my fitness and confidence.

Then in early 2006 my health started to deteriorate, … Read the rest of Tony’s story in our book Cardiac Athletes: Real Superheroes Beating Heart Disease. Volume 1.


Laura Fucci

Location: USA.

When bad news calls, this is a great, positive, uniquely human reaction. But, what we don’t know is just how many ways and over what expanse of time a person may have to “ beat ” something. We aren’t Rocky, we may not be Norma Rae, we can’t be Scarlett O’Hara. We are just who we are. A collection of experiences and knowledge, with an individual set of coping mechanisms. “ Beating ” anything to which you have no real control is a journey.

My journey began at birth. I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. Now, back in 1958 there was no ultrasound imaging to confirm this and it was given a variety of vague names, which existed in the back of my mind as I did all the normal kid things, punctuated with yearly check-up visits to St Michaels Hospital in Newark, NJ.

I played tennis and captained my high school team, joined the rugby team in college and graduated to post college power lifting and bodybuilding. Eventually, I left behind any thought of congenital heart disease and moved to NYC, pursued a career, went back to school and became a Physical Therapist, got married and had children.

Fast forward to turning 40 and my yearly check-up. My GP heard the once faint, familiar murmur had grown louder. Consultation with the cardiologist led to a few tests and BAMM ! Vague congenital heart defect had a name. Bicuspid aortic valve with aortic aneurysm. This congenital defect is found mostly in men-but I always liked to be different. ” Therefore “, commanded my cardiologist, ” no more power lifting.”

Weightlifting put too much pressure on the defective valve. Weightlifting had defined my life and who I was for nearly 20 years. I had to do something else and that something else was run and bike. It wasn’t easy going aerobic from anaerobic but I slogged along. … Read the rest of Laura’s story in our book Cardiac Athletes: Real Superheroes Beating Heart Disease. Volume 1.

Although I have only featured two here … There are 15 other Cardiac Athlete life stories to read in book 1 and many more coming in Book 2, hopefully to be published before Christmas 2017, a fantastically inspiring stocking filler and present for some lucky person.

If you would like your Cardiac Athlete story to feature on these web pages, write to me.  Additionally if you would like your story to be included in our next charity book again do not hesitate in writing to me.  Thank you.

The future success of this website depends ultimately on you, the Cardiac Athletes, so Post your stories on the Forum today so that they can uplift and inspire someone else tomorrow!

Read about The Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery and Rehabilitation.

Read about Patrons of Cardiac Athletes.