Occupation: Retired commercial tire business owner
Hometown: Sparta, New Jersey
Start weight: 180 pounds
End weight: 153 pounds
Time cycling: 15 years
Reason for cycling: To improve health and to recover from cardiac events.
One of my coworkers died of a heart attack two feet away from me when I was in my late 40s. I thought, Wow that’s not going to be me. But I knew I had to make some serious lifestyle changes in order to help prevent that from happening. Though I was an athlete when I was younger, I hadn’t done anything in 25 years—life and kids get in the way—and my diet was one of convenience, not health.
I hated running, and though I was a swimmer when I was young, had no desire to get back into a pool. I always thought cycling was fun, so I jumped on a bike. I rode about a mile, and though I was sweating profusely, I was enjoying it, and it got me back outside.
Then, my brother, introduced me to spin class around 2006. The sweat was great, and I started going four to five times a week. That was my main form of exercise as I was losing weight—I wasn’t doing much cycling outdoors.
Additionally, my wife took on a healthy cooking routine. Changing what we ate and getting a lot of exercise helped me shed pounds and develop my fitness. We used to eat quite a bit of pasta and red meat. Now, we eat a boatload of chicken, fish, and veggies, and we focus on consuming good salads without dressing.
In spin class, I met someone who was an avid cyclist with Skylands Cycling club, and he encouraged me to give it a whirl. One day I went out for a ride with him, and I just loved it. I decided to get a decent bike, and it was something I completely enjoyed.
I went from riding five to 10 miles at a time to 30-mile rides, and I kept getting stronger and stronger. I never raced, but I consider myself a competitive recreational rider—a lot of people I ride with do race, so my competition is to keep up with them on rides.
Back in 2012, I was doing a very aggressive Saturday morning ride on a hot, humid September day. I remember going up a hill and saying to my buddy, “I don’t feel like killing myself today,” and I turned around. He thought I wasn’t feeling well because that was different for my personality. My wife suggested I call my doctor, and he said I should go to the hospital to get checked out.
It turned out I had a blockage in my artery, and that was the first time I had to get a stent put in my heart to open up my artery. All was well and good, and I got back on the bike about two weeks later. My riding was terrific, up until 2019.
In the end of October 2019, I had another blockage. The first blockage was in a really small artery, so the doctors thought there was a good possibility a piece of plaque came off and blocked the artery. This blockage, in my right-side coronary artery, was different than my blockage in 2012, and doctors think it may have been due to genetics. This time, I had two stents put in to open it up.
About six months later, in April 2020, I started to feel the same way I did in October when I was riding. Thanks to cycling, I know my body and how I feel at different heart rate levels. This time, I could feel a sensation on the left side of my chest and behind left arm that I knew wasn’t supposed to be there.
I called my cardiologist and went to the hospital. Doctors found that the artery had rejected the stent and had swelled up and blocked the stent. Having two stents in may have taken some of the flexibility out of the artery, and the doctor spent three hours trying to open them back up, a procedure that normally takes 30 minutes. With no luck fixing the issue, I had to undergo open-heart surgery.
Being fit really helped me recover from my open-heart surgery, which has turned me into an advocate for being fit. If you’re fit before going into any kind of surgery, there is a day and night difference in your recovery. When I was released from the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to drive for six weeks. At week seven of recovery, I got on my trainer in the basement, and started doing some soft pedaling. By August, I rode more than
over 420 miles in the month.
I’ve always monitored my heart rate, and now I do it for both my fitness and health. My doctors have suggested I keep it at 140 or lower. I’m riding four times a week minimum, as well as going to cardiac rehab, in which I do a lot of rowing. I typically walk after that, as it’s a lot of work. I’m up to 25 to 40 miles a week, and I’m back riding with my group. I don’t have the strength I used to in order to keep up with the group, but they’re kind enough to wait for me at the top of the hill. I also continue to attend spin classes in the winter when it’s too cold to ride outside.
One of the great things about participating in any sport where you elevate your heart rate, you become familiar with how your body feels when your heart rate is elevated. This can help you recognize when something is wrong. If there’s something wrong and you feel it’s an early warning sign. If you heed it, you’re ahead of the game.
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