Swimming, Biking, Running... and Helping Heart Transplant Patients

June 21, 2002

This is not the first time Vicki Malzewski has trained for a sports competition. She has run three marathons in the last five years and exercises religiously. But her workouts this spring are preparing her for the ultimate test of endurance - the Iron Man competition - which she will face in July at Lake Placid.

Her motivation is partly to complete the race, which consists of swimming, biking and running, but is more a way to help heart transplant patients at Strong Memorial Hospital. The money she raises through pledges will create an account for patient-related expenses currently not covered, such as parking, cardiac rehabilitation, emergency medication coverage and transportation.

"Preparing for this competition is one of the greatest challenges of my life," says Malzewski, an exercise physiologist with the Strong Health Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation. "However, compared to the obstacles our patients must overcome, this effort pales in comparison."

 Transplantation is expensive for patients and their families, and an unexpected bill - for instance, a change in medications mid-month when previously prescribed medications have already been purchased - has a great impact on a family's budget. Just traveling to and from the hospital several times a month for testing and check-ups can add up.

"We try to make transplantation manageable for our patients but inevitably it is a difficult time, emotionally and financially," Malzewski says. "This event is a way we can raise funds to help decrease the anxiety that comes with overwhelming financial burden."

Malzewski trains six days a week, combining swimming, biking and running in her routine. Some days she's alone, while other days members of the heart transplant team join her to provide support and to cheer her on as she prepares for what is one of the most grueling events in the world of sports. Malzewski trains the marathon team for the American Heart Association and members of that group also assist in her training.

The first Iron Man competition was held in 1978 in Hawaii. A group of Navy SEALS wondered who are the fittest athletes: swimmers, cyclists or runners. A Navy commander suggested that doing all three at once would yield the fittest competitor - the Iron Man. More than 20 years later, 15 races are held worldwide with more than 20,000 athletes competing annually.

The third annual Lake Placid Iron Man is July 28. The 17-hour competition consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike trek and a 26.2-mile run. More than 15 staff members from Strong Memorial's transplant program will travel with Malzewski to Lake Placid to provide moral support.

Although the contest can be daunting, Malzewski is ready. She has completed three marathons to date: Key Bank Vermont City in 1997, the Blue Angel in Florida in 1998, and the Boston Marathon in 2000. She ran the Boston Marathon as a charity fund-raiser, collecting $3,000 for pediatric cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was employed.

For information about Malzewski's activities or to learn more about the Strong Health Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation, call (585) 273-3760. For information about organ donation, call the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network at (585) 272-4930, or check out www.donorrecovery.org.

For Media Inquiries:
Karin Christensen
(585) 275-1311
Email Karin Christensen