Ironheart’s Chief Development Officer, Tara, is one of the lucky ones.

Tara 2015 headshot small
I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have heart disease, but heart disease surrounds me, affecting many of the people who are near and dear to my heart.  I was introduced to heart disease at an early age by my Uncle Ralph, who had open heart surgery twice.  Two other uncles subsequently had strokes and my mother was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which loves to flare at Christmas, causing unexpected trips to the ER.

I met David Watkins in 9th grade at the John Carroll School in Bel Air, Maryland.  He played football, was a healthy athlete, and became a great friend along with Rick Armiger.  At 15, the world was our oyster, and I would never have imagined that two friends who embodied health would later have heart disease rip their worlds and families apart.

When I connected with Rick at our 25-year high school reunion, we chatted about Dave, who had been diagnosed with congenital heart disease, flatlined, and subsequently started Ironheart Foundation with his second lease on life.  Rick, who was serving on Ironheart Foundation’s Board of Directors, had also lost his firstborn son, Emerson, to heart disease.  I was deeply moved by the foundation’s inspiring work and wanted to join the cause and assumed a leadership role as Board Member and Chief Development Officer for Ironheart.

Ironheart Foundation is truly a family, and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to meet and become fast friends with so many members.  Ironheart is a network of survivors, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, physicians, and friends.  The stories of what members have accomplished and will do to pay it forward with their second lives have inspired, challenged, and changed me immeasurably.   Ironheart has taught me not to take my health for granted, to appreciate each day I’ve been given, and to realize that I can accomplish anything when I fully apply my mind as well as my body.

Over the past year I’ve made some discoveries about my own heart health too.  Because of Ironheart, I learned that I have a very low resting heart rate called bradycardia. When I had my first EKG, the nurse became frustrated because she thought the machine was malfunctioning since my resting heart rate was in the low 40’s.  A second machine and test confirmed that I have an “athletic heart.” I’ve decided to challenge it and put it to good use.


I started running in April 2015 and was proud to represent Ironheart in my first half marathon in October 2015 and my first triathlon in 2016. I’m looking forward to running, fundraising, and spreading awareness of cardiovascular disease with many of you this year.  If you can attempt to cross the finish line with a heart condition, so can I!

Thank you, Ironheart friends, for including me in your journey.  You are my heros, my motivation, and my athletic inspiration.  Your zest for life and overcoming obstacles has made my heart full.

– Taralyn Kohler, Fairfax, VA

Photo Credit:  Anderson Wozny