Mike Nall suffered a heart attack 12 years ago, and after “graduating” from physical therapy and continuing regular workouts for three years, he convinced his Cleveland Clinic doctors that he was ready to run. Nall reached out and connected to others through a couple of online forums, including cardiacathletes.com, where he began chatting with runner/heart patients who shared their motivations and fears.
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About HEART: Heart Education and Rehabilitation Team
Over the years, Nall and the group from cardiacathletes.com has continued to meet up at races all over the country. They formalized the group in 2011 as HEART: Heart Education and Rehabilitation Team. The group “meets” regularly online to chat, and travels to races where they run together or enjoy each other’s company at a social outings.
In many ways, Cardiac Athletes helped saved Nall—and here, he shares the e-mails other forum members have sent him about their running rebirth and what that has meant for recovery.
In their own words
Being a part of the Heart Relay Team at Baltimore is pretty significant for me and has played a huge part in my confidence level. Although I had my open-heart surgery about 15 months ago, I was afraid to run for months afterwards. It wasn’t until I found out about the Cardiac Athletics Forum and the Baltimore event through Tom Price that I began to believe in myself again.
Since May, I’ve been running about 14 to 20 miles a week, and last Saturday I ran 8 miles! I used to run half-marathons, and hopefully I’ll return to that within the year.
I just wanted you all to know how much you’ve made a difference in the way I view myself. Knowing you through the forum and being on a Heart Team has really inspired me and motivated me through my fears. – Rachel
I want to thank you all for writing these emails and reminding us of how important these relationships are. It is odd, but I look at my heart issues as a gift. I learned so much from the process and from all of you. This is our go-to group. When I teach, I often share the story of our group and how we can work with others to form a support system so life remains fun and we set and attain goals, individually and collectively. I have now succumbed to high blood pressure brought on by family history and occupational stress. There was Tom (added to the thread) guiding me with choosing between ace inhibitors and beta blockers. “Life is the united effort of many.” – Mark
I proudly tell anyone who will listen about Cardiac Athletes and Valve-o-lines. I believe I speak for all of us when I say it changed my life. That post-surgery fear of not knowing where to go or how to return safely to training was shared by each one of us.
I remember how excited I was going up to Vermont for our first relay. One vivid memory I have discussing being able to see your heart beat through your skin weeks and months after surgery, and how sometimes the beating seems so loud. No doctor could have understood that question of, “Is this O.K.?” Meanwhile, we all shared that feeling (as well as “pump head”), and I knew right then I was gonna be O.K.
The first person I called when I found out I had to have a second, unexpected surgery was Hugh. I dialed him up and said a bad word about 10 times—he responded in kind. That was all I needed. I didn’t want to talk about it or tell anyone at work, or my friends—but I did tell all the Cardiac Athletes and Valvers. ‘Cause we knew. We understood. We could share that feeling of dread, disappointment, fear and absolute hope that everything was gonna be O.K. – Laura
What a wonderful thing you’re doing. Five years ago this past Sunday, I returned home via delayed flight from the Akron Marathon Relay after seeing Mark, Paul and Laura again and meeting wonderful new fellow heart surgery travelers. I remember proudly wearing my blue Akron long sleeve shirt at the airport as I’d headed toward the gate to go home when someone smiled, gave me a thumbs-up and asked me my time. You know what I thought to myself at that moment? I thought “Wow. This is what it feels like to be an athlete.”
In more ways than one, I was back from the dead. It was in that frame of mind that I arrived back in Philly and went from the airport straight to a date that I really didn’t to go to and actively tried to cancel. I was going out on single dates back then as I reeled from a very nasty divorce—never to build a relationship, not even to have meaningless one night stands—just to get out of the house and out of my self-pitying head. The woman wouldn’t take my hints. The woman was Claudia, love of my life and partner. We celebrated our fifth anniversary together Saturday night. You are all inextricably woven into the fabric of my life—in the moments when I reclaimed my life—and for this, I will be forever grateful and will forever love you. – Hugh