After WGN’s favorite triathlete Erin Ivory was sidelined from the event after suffering from heart failure, Mike Lowe picked up the baton. He’s running the race in her honor and raising money to fight heart disease.
A year ago, WGN’s Erin Ivory would have been biking or running.
“For me, so much of it was the push: having a goal, something to work toward,” Erin Ivory said.
The avid endurance athlete would have been preparing for one of her favorite annual events: The Lifetime Chicago Triathlon.
Come Sunday, she would have been adding another notch to an illustrious finish line tally.
“At the end, I would always mark it, right?” Ivory said.
Lately, it’s a simple walk through Harms Woods in Glenview and the finish line has moved.
“The finish line for everyone is different, and it’s personal. So, for me, it always was on the course, something that made me feel like I had accomplished something, reached a goal. Right now, that finish line is walking LuLu to school,” Ivory said.
After suffering a heart attack in February, doctors told the mother of four “no strenuous exercise” and certainly no endurance competitions.
“I was told in the hospital that I definitely won’t swim again. We’re not running. Maybe biking with a leisure bike that’s three speeds. So triathlons were out. And I still asked, ‘what about triathlons?’ No Erin. You’re not going to be doing more triathlons,” Ivory said.
Mike Lowe has been training for the triathlon and will be competing this week in honor of Erin, as well as to raise awareness about heart health and to raise money for the American Heart Association.
Lisa Hinton is the organization’s executive director.
“People who invest in the American Heart Association are investing in change, science and discovery, healthier policies, access to health care and access to things like nutrition, food and healthy neighborhoods,” she said.
Ivory’s heart failure was the result of genetics, but the vast majority of cardiac disease can be prevented.
“Blood pressure is the key risk factor to having heart disease or a heart event or stroke,” Hinton said.
50 percent of the adult population in the US has high blood pressure, a condition that can be managed and corrected.
“Heart disease really touches everyone in some way. It’s in my family, it’s been in your families and if you don’t know someone, you likely will in your lifetime,” Hinton said.
As for Ivory, the road to recovery continues.
“Not a lot has changed. I’m still on this regimen of a lot of medications. I try to do this little walking program that consists of about 15 minutes a day and just really try to keep my head in a positive space,” Ivory said.
After the heart attack, her heart was at just 28 percent capacity.
In the months since, it has improved to 32 percent, keeping her above the 30 percent threshold for needing a transplant.
“What’s helped me is just trying to refocus those efforts on telling my story,” Ivory said.
The response came in the form of not ‘Get Well Soon’ cards, but of ‘Thank You’ notes.
“Emails, letters from viewers, and it’s just been overwhelming. I cry a lot of times when I read these letters because my goal was to help one person. I thought, ‘if I get one person into the doctor, and they don’t have to go through what I did, that is worth it,'” Ivory said.
Leading cardiologist Dr. John Erwin said that cardiac patients can and do still live active lives.
“At any point along the spectrum, people have ability and disability to do numerous things. Doing a little bit is always better than doing nothing, so you need to walk before you run,” Erwin said.
In Lowe’s case, he must swim and bike before he can run.
“The reality is that triathlon is a very daunting term for a lot of people, but we’ve all swam, biked and ran as kids,” Scott Hutmacher of Lifetime Chicago Triathlon said.
Hutmacher said that Ivory’s story is inspiring other athletes.
“Her story, her experiences and her passion to keep pushing that forward is exactly why we’re here, to help spread that ripple,” Hutmacher said.
As Ivory transitions to new challenges, she offered Lowe a few tips on one of the least publicized yet most daunting aspects of the race, referring to the transition area, when athletes move from the swim, to the bike, to the run.
“It’s really easy to get disoriented and totally lose track of what you’re supposed to be doing,” Ivory said.
She went into detail on the go-to moves for completing a triathlon.
“So, you’ve got a list of all the stuff to pack the night before. You’ve got your swim stuff, and I throw it in the back. Throw off that suit, rinse off your feet, the last thing you want is sand and gravel between your toes for a 50-mile bike ride. Dry it off. Then if you’re going to be wearing your tennis shoes, my favorite trick is before you put them on, baby powder. You just throw that in your sock, and then have the socks ready to go. When you put that in there, it helps dry your feet. It helps prevent blistering or chafing and you’re good to go fro the run,” Ivory said.
When one-time ‘given’s’ become ‘would-have-been’s’, it lends perspective to many as we approach the finish line on Triathlon Tuesday.
“When you get to that final stretch, instead of kicking into it, just enjoy it. I like to think back on all those god-awful early mornings. All the hours you put in and the sore muscles, and just enjoy it because that’s what it’s all about,” Ivory said.
Mike Lowe will be participating in the Chicago Triathlon on August 29.
If you’d like to help fight heart disease by contributing to the WGN fundraiser for the AHA, go to www.heart.org/wgn or text ‘WGN’ to 71777.