Timothy O’Donnell will compete in the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship triathlon in Chattanooga next Sunday.
Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be earth-shattering news. After all, the Shavertown native is a former ITU Long Distance World Champion and has more than 22 victories at major events around the world.
However, considering O’Donnell suffered a “widow-maker” heart attack just a little more than year ago during a triathlon, it’s remarkable that he’s competing at any level.
“Obviously, it’s been a while since I raced,” O’Donnell said in a recent interview. “I want to get back out there and see what I can do.”
It appeared that O’Donnell’s career was likely over in March 2021. In fact, he appeared lucky to escape with his life after suffering a major heart attack in the middle of the Challenge Miami triathlon on March 14, 2021.
O’Donnell completed the 1.2-mile swim portion of the 70.3-mile race in 20 minutes, 30 seconds, calling it “one of the best swims” of his career.
It was about 2/3 of the way through the 56-mile bike portion of the event that he realized he wasn’t feeling right. He began suffering through all the typical symptoms of heart attack.
It was something that didn’t go unnoticed as he struggled to finish the bike portion of the event.
“I thought, ‘This is a heart attack,’ ” he said.
But he kept pushing on, completing the bike 1:25:16. He then went out on the 13.1-mile run.
“I hit the run and I wanted to run faster than I could,” he recalled. “I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t.”
He completed the half marathon portion of the event in 57:28, finishing the race in just 2:44:57 and in 11th place despite the heart attack.
“I was just in race mindset,” O’Donnell said. “I’m going to finish my races no matter what.”
After the race, instead of beginning to recover, O’Donnell felt worse and worse until he was eventually rushed to the hospital at about 8:30 p.m.
It was there he learned he had suffered a massive heart attack. One doctors have nicknamed the widow-maker because so few people survive the attacks.
“I’m super lucky,” he said in a video posted last year. “I’ve been told the survival rate is 12 percent. My particular block was at the top of the artery, which actually makes it worse.”
But O’Donnell has been working to get back to racing for sometime now.
In October, he was examined by the New England Patriots’ cardiologist and slowly returned to training.
“I’m back to my full-time routine now,” O’Donnell said. “My heart function is normal.
“Not only did I survive, there wasn’t a lot of muscle damage or scarring (to my heart). It’s kind of the best scenario for what happened.”
He now returns to competition with the blessing of all those around him, including his wife, Mirinda Carfrae – an Ironman world champion herself – and his children, 4 1/2-year-old Isabelle, and 16-month-old Fin.
“Everyone has been really supportive,” O’Donnell said. “We just agreed that if the medical professionals gave the green light, it would be, ‘Let’s get back to doing what I love.’ ”
Not everything has remained the same for the 41-year-old triathlete, however.
“My perspective and goals have changed,” he said. “Before this happened, my goal was to get a win in Kona (site of the Ironman World Championships).
“But who knows how good of an athlete I’ll be.”
O’Donnell said he’s shifted his goals to concentrate more on the his process and training than necessarily results for one very good reason.
“I’m just lucky to be here,” he said.
Still he hopes to be competing in the world championships in Kona, Hawaii, where he finished second in 2019.
“The goal is to get back to Kona in October,” O’Donnell said. “Hopefully that will be the high point of the year.”
Reach Joe Soprano at 570-991-6393 or on Twitter @jsoprano.