The Newton-supported Ironheart Racing Team was founded in 2005 after David Watkins from Seattle underwent open heart surgery at age 34 to repair a congenital heart defect. After his aorta was replaced with porcine (pig) valve, he lost a functional heart beat for over 5 minutes. His family was brought in to say any ‘last words’ before he was wheeled back into surgery. “Fight, Be strong, We love you” was what they said. David made it through surgery only to suffer a stroke a month following. Thirteen months later, he stood in the sand at the starting line of one of the world’s toughest endurance races, Ironman Coeur d' Alene. To top it off, the temperature rose well beyond 100 degrees that day. 20% of the racers didn’t make it to the finish line, but Dave did. Only he crossed after the 17 hour cutoff.
“I’ve been haunted by this for the past 4 years.” David recalls. Now it’s time to finish what he started.“At first I wanted to teach my girls that no matter the obstacles, no matter the odds, if you believe in yourself, stay determined and work hard, you can accomplish amazing things. Now I want to add to that. It’s about not stopping if you fall short of your dreams. Rebuild, reassess, refocus and try again.”
Along with that, David has created the Ironheart Racing Team. It’s made up of approximately 50 athletes from across the country and has now gone international with members in the UK and South Africa. Some are supporters of Dave, but over half have stories like him.
“I am truly amazed at the group of athletes that we have on the team. Some are elite, others are first timers. Some of the stories will blow you away. Many of us have seen some dark days in the hospital. The team allows us to come together and celebrate our lives," Watkins says. "We’ve created a team that will not only raise awareness for certain congenital heart charitable organizations, but hope to provide inspiration as well.” With over 1.8 million people affected with a congenital heart defects, Dave hopes to have Ironheart Racing be a platform to show these patients and their families that there is life after surgery and to never underestimate the power of the heart. The Ironheart Racing Team supports the Nick of Time Foundation, Adult Congenital Heart Association, Parent Heart Watch, Children's Heart Foundation, and Mended Little Hearts. "This allows us to cover the full spectrum of congenital heart defects, from birth through adulthood," Watkins says. "It's important for us to reach individuals and families at different points in their lives. Some get diagnosed at birth, some as teens and others when they are adults. We want to provide support and awareness for all ages."
Members raced in over 80 events from sprint triathlons and 5k runs to marathons and multiple Ironman events in 2010. 2011 will increase this even further with plans to host their own ‘Ironheart Classic’ 4 mile and 8 mile event near Seattle, WA in the spring.
Ironman Florida will bring 6 of these athletes together for the first time.