41-year-old Kyle Garlett considers himself one of the “lucky ones” in life. The Ironman and motivational speaker has a story beyond what most would believe. It’s a story of competing against all odds and standing strong when many others would simply give up hope.
In 1989, at the age of 18, Kyle was diagnosed with lymphoma. At the age when all of us consider ourselves to be invincible with a life-expectancy of “forever,” Kyle was facing his own mortality and a deadly disease. Kyle beat the cancer only to have it come back twice more in the coming years. Doctors quit administering chemotherapy in 1995 during his third bout with cancer when they discovered it had weakened his heart. A bone marrow transplant was the next source of treatment to try and kick the reoccurring disease. Kyle went on to live two more years cancer free when for a fourth time, cancer returned as secondary leukemia. This would be the moment when most people would give up. “I’ve beat cancer three times, I can’t keep doing this,” they would say. And they would be wrong. Because like Kyle, there are those who refuse to give in to the deadly disease. Life is worth competing for.
So in 1997, facing secondary leukemia, Kyle began another battle, this one far serious than the previous three. The cancer had been brought on by a chemotherapy drug VP-16, that had Kyle had been receiving during his bone marrow transplant. Doctors were fearing it was Kyle’s final days.
“I really thought when the doctor told me that I had leukemia that he was basically telling me that I was going to die.”
But as painful as the treatments were, Kyle was not ready to die. “I’d come to the realization that I wasn’t afraid of dying, but I sure was not ready to be done living,” he recalls. Kyle was finally cancer free but his heart had deteriorated greatly. He was going to need a new heart. He waited five long years on the transplant list before a heart had been found, but in 2006 Kyle was given a new lease on life.
Eleven months after receiving his new heart, Kyle completed the 2008 Nautica Malibu Triathlon – his first race as a triathlete. He became the first heart transplant recipient to ever compete at the Ironman World Championships in Kona and is going for his third triathlon this year in Arizona. It is an inspirational journey for a man who beat cancer multiple times and a heart transplant to now compete for his love of racing and not just compete for his life. Trying to live as long as you possibly can, in Kyle’s words, “is worth it.”
“We stop ourselves by limited expectations, and I think if we would just push ourselves forward, we realize that ‘Wow, we are capable of a whole lot of cool stuff,’” Kyle told KABC.
To read more of Kyle’s incredible journey, check out his latest book Heart of Iron.