Competitor tackles Ironman 3 years after heart transplant


POSTED: Friday, October 09, 2009

KAILUA-KONA » It's long been said that it takes a lot of heart to tackle the Ironman World Championship.

Kyle Garlett is the first triathlete to try it with someone else's heart.

Tomorrow, three years to the day that he received his heart transplant, Garlett will be among nearly 1,800 triathletes lined up along Kailua Bay, eager to get started on the 140.6-mile endurance race that includes a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

“;I really want to finish the race, but it won't define anything about me,”; said Garlett, 38. “;It would put an exclamation on my recovery. Three years ago, I couldn't make it up the stairs. My life could not be more different.”;

The Los Angeles-based writer and motivational speaker has been diagnosed four times with cancer. He fought off Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1989 as an 18-year-old high school senior, and again in 1991 and 1994. A bone marrow transplant in 1994 damaged his heart.

In 1997, Garlett heard the devastating news again. He had secondary leukemia, triggered by chemotherapy drugs.

“;At that point, I'd been fighting for eight years. I really thought I was going to die,”; he said. “;That was the darkest day.”;

Three years of chemotherapy knocked out the leukemia, but repeated blasts of cancer-fighting drugs wreaked havoc.

In 2000, Garlett's right hip and left shoulder were replaced, and in 2001 he was placed on the heart transplant list. Then, on Oct. 10, 2006, he got the call. A 42-year-old construction worker had died on the job and Garlett was to receive his heart.