Unbeknownst to me, I had been feeling the effects of a congenital heart defect for quite some time.

My heart issues were discovered in the spring of 2015. I began to feel lethargic and lightheaded at mile 20 of a marathon that I was running, but I chalked it up to poor training or dehydration. I finished by walking and jogging the last six miles. Several weeks later, I was running a local 10K race when I passed out 200 meters short of the finish line. I was in third or fourth place and was about to set a personal record of 40 minutes and change.  I began to have that same feeling that I felt during my marathon so I backed it down, but it was too late and I passed out.

Over the course of the next several weeks the doctors just couldn’t figure out what was going on with me. On the way to work, I nearly passed out again and was admitted in the hospital for a second time. The doctors place to Reveal Linq monitor in me,  and I resumed my normal daily living and athletic functions although my performance definitely felt some sort of impact.  I was coughing more and more, more lethargic than usual, and just simply felt drained all of the time.  In December 2015, I’ll begin to report more of the symptoms, and they coincided with data from my monitor that said my heart was stopping for 3 to 5 seconds at a time on a more frequent basis in it was then that my doctor scheduled me to discuss getting a pacemaker. the middle of the night.  It was then that my doctor scheduled me to discuss getting a pacemaker.

Of course I was initially devastated and scared when I heard the news because anything I knew about pacemakers dealt with death, the elderly, and shortened lives. My dad has the same diagnoses and had just received a pacemaker the year before. I never went through denial because it all made so much sense. Who can argue with the data, the EKGs, and the stress tests/  I actually felt relieved to learn what had been causing all of my issues. Plus, I had already been through some spinal issues that resulted in a total  discectomy and fusion so this was just something else to face head on and tackle.  I received my pacemaker on December 9, 2015,  and upon waking up I felt better than I had felt in years.

I began to educate myself on living with cardiac disease but had a difficult time finding anything relating to the active  lifestyle of which I was accustomed to living.  Through Ironheart I found amazing athletes and people who showed me that life doesn’t have to end or be complacent. I learned that I am not an anomaly or an exception to the rule. I learned that there are many like myself and so many people who have been through a great deal more than I have but have refused to let their diagnosis stand in their way of living life as this meant to be lived.

During my recovery, I began to plan my come back.  I knew it had to start with my mind and heart. I knew the only thing that I could control was my attitude, so I began to view my pacemaker and diagnosis as a gift rather than a curse.  I also remembered the fear I initially had and the frustration at not being able to find any information on leading the lifestyle that I loved.  I figured I would be able to help others while helping myself while working towards becoming the surfer and runner I once was before all this happened.  I would do this by documenting my journey via social media.

In starting “The Wired Athlete” on Facebook and Instagram,I was able to accomplish three things. First, I kept myself accountable by setting goals and accomplishing what I put out there for others to see.  Secondly, it was my hope is to inspire others  to refuse to be defined by their circumstances or diagnosis.  Lastly, I was able to educate others in regards to the low expectations and societal norms regarding heart patients set forth and promoted  by the much of the medical community.  Simply put, I wanted to prove them wrong and put a new face on what the world sees as a cardiac patient.

As soon as I was released to run, I begin to slowly make my way back. Running meant more to me than it ever has before because I did not take it for granted anymore. I begin to work my mileage and my speed back up and ran a few races just to get the feel back. My big goal was to run the 10K that took me out a year earlier. In April 2016,  I did just that.  There was a news story done about it, and my personal story began to get traction locally and regionally. I began to have people messaging me from all over the world and calling me telling me that they were inspired to keep going beyond whatever circumstances they were dealing with.  I knew my story could not end there, so I made another goal to complete a marathon before my one year pacemaker anniversary. I was able to complete that goal in November 2016 at the Outer Banks Marathon by setting a personal record of 3:35:13  on a tough course. Just three weeks after that marathon, I decided to train for the Wrightsville Beach Marathon in March 2017. Why let a good base go to waste, right?  I trained hard for that and set a goal of running sub 3:30.  The weather was a little warmer than expected, and I didn’t hit my goal.  But I did get a 1:13  personal record.  After a few days of recovery, I decided to try and qualify for Boston 2019 by running a fall or winter marathon. I’m confident that it will happen for me one day soon.

Like I said, I feel that heart disease is a gift rather than a curse and that I have a great deal of responsibility to help others like myself in refusing to be defined  either circumstances.  In the aforementioned news story, the reporter asked me why I kept running after all that had happened.  I said, ” I don’t want to walk around like a zombie waiting for a headshot to end a miserable existence. I want to live the life that is meant to be lived.”   I truly feel that I really began to live when I woke up in the hospital room  after receiving my pacemaker. I’m going to continue using my second chance to squeeze the juice out of every day then eat the rind.

-Peyton Chitty