Derek Fitzgerald Wants to Earn the Heart He Was Given

Presented by Spartan Training®

Derek Fitzgerald Is Driven to Earn His Second Chance

“I wouldn’t wish my story on anyone.”

Derek Fitzgerald has had to overcome more obstacles in his life than any Spartan racer has on the course, but that hasn’t stopped him from completing 16 Ironman Triathlons over the last seven years. 

After he completed college and began his career, Fitzgerald didn’t take care of himself physically. Doctors probed him for three months to try to find the cause of unexplained symptoms and complications that Fitzgerald was dealing with, and they found a grapefruit-sized tumor in his intestines. 

Related: Navy SEAL Jason Kuhn Explains the Best Type of Motivation

After he was diagnosed with cancer, Fitzgerald went through six months of chemotherapy before suffering from heart failure, which was caused by his cancer treatment. He lived with heart failure for seven years, slowing him down physically to the point that he was sleeping 23 hours a day. 

“Victory was just staying alive,” Fitzgerald told Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena on the Spartan Up Podcast. “I didn’t know from one day to the next if I would open [my eyes] again.”

Fitzgerald needed a heart transplant and finally got one on January 3, 2011, but living past the surgery was no guarantee. 


“(The transplant) opened the door a crack, and it was my job to wedge my foot in that crack on that door and just blow it open,” he said. 

And did he ever. In January of 2011, Fitzgerald could barely lift his head an inch off a pillow. Eight months later he ran his first 5K. Two months after that, he ran his first half marathon. In 2012 he ran his first marathon, and in May of that year, he did his first Half Ironman.

Completing these races was never the goal for Fitzgerald. He takes it one day at a time, but tries his best to honor his heart donor with everything he does. 

“Insurance pays for the surgery,” he said. “It’s up to me to earn it. It’s up to me every day to earn this gift that I’ve been given.”


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Producer: Marion Abrams, Madmotion, llc. Hosts: Joe De Sena, Tim Nye, and Sefra Alexandra — “Dr.” Johnny Waite is off seeking adventures and stories of resilience this week. Synopsis: Sefra Alexandra | Seed Huntress Production Assistant: Andrea Hagarty

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