Cancer survivor, heart transplant recipient inspires at IRONMAN Florida

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The 2,500 men and women who suited up for IRONMAN Florida may not be the highest paid athletes in the world, but they are some of the most inspiring.

140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running takes unrivaled physical toughness...and then there's Derek Fitzgerald.

The Doylestown, Pennsylvania native is not just a cancer survivor, he's also a heart transplant recipient. After taking chemo for three months for intestinal cancer, he went through seven years of heart failure, leading to a new heart in January of 2011.

Following the transplant, Fitzgerald had to learn how to learn to do a lot of things over, including walking and running.

Despite never competing in any kind of competitive racing, he did a 5K, then a half-marathon...then learned to bike and swim..and within a couple of years was doing IRONMAN triathlons.

"Every time I attempt a new distance, I ask my donor, I ask my heart, if they're ready to go through this with me," Fitzgerald said. "Every time I get that response inside that says, 'yes, let's do this. Let's give it a shot. Let's kick the tires and see what we can do.'"

He has finished six IRONMAN races, including the World Championship event in Kona, Hawaii, and he's just one of six heart transplant recipients to finish an IRONMAN distance race.

Derek is not competing to set any records or win any awards. He's motivated to be a living, breathing example for others to see.

"Once you get get your feet underneath you, there's really nothing that you can't do. It's every day, you try to be a little bit better than you were the day before. If you keep that up, there's no place that you can't go."

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