My Dad’s first heart attack hit us in March of 2014.

I ran the 2018 Chicago Marathon with the American Heart Association Team Run With Heart to honor the life of my father, David W. Sutter (1948 – 2017)

Dad never smoked, led a low-stress lifestyle and rarely used alcohol. He was overweight, but seeing a doctor regularly and taking prescribed medications for hypertension and cholesterol control.

On February 26, 2017 my father had his second heart attack. This time, it was fatal. He was 68 years old.

At the time of my Dad’s death, I began to worry about my own heart health. Knowing that Dad didn’t have any of the obvious risky behaviors for heart disease, I became concerned that there were genetic factors in play. In March 2017, I asked my sister, a licensed and practicing physician, how I could find out if I have the same risk factors as our Dad.

My sister recommended a coronary calcium scoring test. The results surprised my primary care physician and scared the hell out of me! I scored 360! A “healthy” heart score is less than 100. My score puts me in the “you have heart disease” category.

At the time, I was 45 years old, I have never smoked, rarely use alcohol, see a doctor regularly, and take medication to control my hypertension. I am an active endurance athlete. I was a distance swimmer in high school. I have completed countless 5K and 10K road races, 20 triathlons of varying distances, 8 half-marathons, and one full marathon. I am the last person I thought would have heart disease!

At my diagnosis, I began training for the Ironman triathlon. The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a full 26.2 mile marathon; back-to-back-to-back; all in 17 hours or less. The Ironman is the ultimate test of endurance, athleticism, and heart. The odds were not in my favor. Only 1 in 10,000 Americans will finish an Ironman, and I was going to do it with a diseased heart and a heavy burden of grief. I dedicated my training to remembering my Dad and thought constantly about doing everything I could do to avoid, or even reverse, the damage that has already been done to my heart. I made changes to my diet and began encouraging my friends to look into their own heart history and health.

With my Dad in my heart, I finished Ironman Wisconsin 2017 in 14 hours, 27 minutes and 49 seconds! Ironman was a new start for me, not a finish. I have learned that anything is possible, including a world free of heart disease!

In early 2018, I registered for the Chicago Marathon. I continued to train through my heart disease with my late father on my mind. I was even featured on NBC Today Show host Natalie Morales’s website!

I was always proud of my Dad and especially proud of his military service. My dad served the US Navy on the cold-war, fast-attack submarine USS Sea Devil SSN-664. A few weeks before the race, I received an incredible sign from above, and a message from my Dad. When my race packet arrived, my race bib number was 46646. The middle three numbers matched my Dad’s submarine number! 664. I knew dad was going to be with me during the whole 26.2 miles. I ran the Chicago Marathon with dad in my heart and his number on my bib.

Many people ask “Why do you exercise so much?”

My answer? “My Dad is why.”

John David Sutter