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HEART Insight:
doi: 10.1097/01.HEARTI.0000387913.67364.3f
Features: Cover Story

Looking For A Heart Of Gold

Fuerst, Mark

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Cardiac Rehab Patient Jay Kennedy Takes Home Four Medals At The World Heart Games

The athletes wait for the torch to enter the arena with mounting anticipation. Cameras flash, the decibel level of the cheering becomes noticeably higher and the spectators crane their necks to get a good look as the torchbearer jogs onto the track at the 2010 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) World Heart Games.

More than 100 athletes and volunteers from nine states — GA, IL, IN, MD, NC, NH, RI, SC and WI — trained and worked hard for the start of this Olympic-style competition for cardiac rehabilitation patients held every three years. The competitors trained at their local cardiac rehabilitation programs to get into shape for these Games, which were held on May 14 and 15 at Agnes Scott College in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, GA.

One of them, Jay Kennedy — the athlete who carried the torch into the arena — is a 76-year-old retired bank trust officer who had quadruple heart bypass surgery 17 years ago; at the time, his left main coronary artery was blocked 75 percent.

Since then, he's lost more than 20 pounds — at 5' 8”, he is now 183 pounds with a BMI of 27.8 — and plays volleyball twice a week at Piedmont College in Clarksville, GA, where Emory University internist F. Stuart Sanders, who chaired the 2010 World Heart Games, directs a cardiac rehabilitation program. Kennedy also plays doubles tennis twice a week and mixes in aerobic and strength training workouts three times a week.

“When you come close to dying, have bypass surgery and get a second chance, you want to stay healthy,” says Kennedy. He says he's “making sure I'm around to ride bikes” with his grandchildren, 16-year old Trey and Ashtyn, 11.

This was not the first such event for the highly competitive Kennedy. In 2006 he won his first world championships — in volleyball, table tennis and bocce ball — at the Second International Heart and Lung Games in Chicago. “I picked up volleyball as part of my cardiac rehab. It's an active sport and takes stamina,” he explains. “On a lark, we entered a team in bocce ball, and we beat the Italians in the finals. I became a world champion bocce player and I didn't know how to spell the sport the day before,” he recalls gleefully.

HEART INSIGHT asked Kennedy to keep a diary of his experiences and memories.

For more information on the World Heart Games, visit to read “Reclaiming The Joy Of Sports,” an online-only article.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

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8:30 A.M.

I know I'm 76, but there's a young guy inside me who is still ready to compete. I'm optimistic about my chances at the Heart Games. I'm registered for doubles tennis, table tennis, volleyball, golf putting and prediction bike (I predict how long it will take me to ride 1½ miles).

The 1½ hour trip from Cornelia to Decatur down Interstate 85 is pretty easy. I drive down with a fellow volleyball player, Terrell Franklin, 65. He's tall and a good spiker. We call him Bandit, short for One-Armed Bandit, because once time he hurt his left shoulder and played volleyball with only one arm. He's had four heart attacks and had bypass surgery on five vessels about 10 years ago.

We're rooming together at a Holiday Inn in downtown Decatur. The hotel is holding a convention of the Buffalo Soldiers, the African-American cavalrymen. They seem to have switched from horses to motorcycles, since there are huge Harley Davidsons all over the parking lot. I unpack my overnight bag — a change of clothes, my tennis outfit, tennis shoes, two tennis racquets, trail mix granola bars for snacks and two day's worth of my meds (simvastatin, 40 mg; linosipril, 10 mg; and aspirin, 82 mg).

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We head to the Heart Games and check in. Bandit is competing in volleyball, bocce and the softball toss. Each of us receives a goody bag that includes a white cotton polo shirt with the Heart Games logo and a heart-shaped pin that I put on my hat. Everywhere I go, I put pins on my hat — it must weigh about 10 pounds.

The Games begin with an Opening Ceremony that includes the presentation of the torch. I have the honor of having been chosen by Dr. Sanders to bring the torch into the arena. The brass torch has a lighted wick and weighs about six pounds. As I carry it I'm thinking “Just don't trip.” I walk through the gate, the crowd starts cheering and I hear a recording of the Olympic theme song over the loudspeaker. This inspires me to jog my last 50 yards around the track until I pass the torch along to the next athlete.

Five other athletes circle the torch around the quarter mile track until it's finally placed on a podium. Dr. Sanders leads us in singing the Star Spangled Banner and states the Game's motto — Sapientior, Fortius, Sanior (Wiser, Stronger, Healthier) — and the Games are declared open.

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1:30 P.M.

My first event is table tennis. I beat my first opponent 15-8, and take two others 15-6 and 15-12. Then I lose, 15-8, to a really good player who has long arms and plays in a league every week. Luckily, it's double elimination, so I keep playing and win two more games. I make it into the finals against the same guy I had lost to earlier. I haven't played in six months because my partner hurt his arm and couldn't practice. He beats me 15-11 in the finals to win the Gold Medal. I get the Silver Medal. Truthfully, I could have played him all year and still wouldn't have beaten him.

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2:30 P.M.

My next event is golf putting on a three hole putt-putt course. On the first hole, my putt bounces three times and goes right in the hole for the only hole in one of the competition. On the next hole I card a three, on the third hole I get a two. My total score is six, which puts me into the playoffs with seven other players. We play the same three holes, and I score a seven, but the medal winners score a total of five and six.

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3:30 P.M.

My last event of the day is the prediction bike. I predict that I can ride a bicycle 1.5 miles around the track in 6 minutes and 15 seconds. I settle in and pace myself by counting the pedals and watching each 10th of a mile on the track. I have to wait until others finish this event tomorrow to find out how I did.

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7:30 P.M.

We have two exciting guest speakers tonight. Dr. Mindy Millard-Stafford, ACSM past president, speaks about “Exercise is Medicine.” Her main point: “Stick with cardiac rehab. It's worth it.” Al Mead, a U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist in the long jump at Seoul in 1988 and Silver Medalist in the long jump at Barcelona in 1992, had lost a leg to infection at nine-years-old. He tells us he was devastated at first, but he always believed he was going to be a great athlete — he had been the fastest kid on his block in Chicago — and so he learned how to run and jump with a prosthesis.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

8:30 A.M.

My first event today is double tennis. My partner, Holten King, 55, and I have never played together so this is the one event I am most anxious about. Holten had a “silent” heart attack earlier this year, and now has two stents to keep his coronary arteries open.

He and I grab a quick breakfast of orange juice and an egg sandwich before heading to the tennis courts. We win all of our early matches and make it to the finals where we are pitted against Russ Spangler, 72, and Robert Nichols, 60. Both men, who are on meds to control high blood pressure, are also members of our volleyball team. Holten is excellent covering the net, and I get most everything back, and we win the Gold Medal, 6-1, 6-1.

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10:30 A.M.

It's now time for the big volleyball challenge. We know our opponent, the team from Winston-Salem, NC, very well. We play them once a year for a small trophy, either at our place or theirs. They beat us in 2007 for the trophy, but we took it back in 2008 and have held it since. We don't want to lose to them at the Heart Games. We have become close friends with them — when they come to visit us, they spend the day and we take them sightseeing and to a good restaurant.

The opening match against Winston-Salem is close, but we win 15-12, 15-13. Our team and the Winston-Salem team win our matches against other teams and we face each other again for the Gold Medal. They take an early lead, 7-4, which makes me nervous. My teammate Russ turns to me and observes, “You wouldn't know we're heart patients. We're all just volleyball players playing hard, trying to win.” We come back and win the gold, 25-22, 25-21; Winston-Salem has to settle for the silver. It always feels good to beat those guys.

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6:00 P.M.

The Awards Banquet for all the athletes and their families is a grand affair, with a heart-healthy meal of chicken with mushroom sauce, wild rice, artichoke hearts and grilled vegetables. Dessert is cake topped with berries. Bandit is at my table, along with Charles English, 76, one of our volleyball players, and his wife, Betty. Charles had an angioplasty after a massive heart attack 21 years ago, followed by a second angioplasty when he had a minor heart attack two years ago.

During the awards presentation, our volleyball team proudly receives the Gold Medal. I also accept the Gold Medal for doubles tennis with Holten, the Silver Medal for table tennis and, to my surprise, the Silver Medal for the prediction bike (I had missed my time by only four seconds). We cheer Russ and Robert when they collect their Silver Medals for doubles tennis.

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8:00 P.M.

I drive home by myself — Bandit gets a ride back with Constance, a nurse in our cardiac rehab program. I'm looking forward to telling my family what I'd been up to, and bragging about my medals. When I get home, the first thing I do is to e-mail photos to my family. I also send an e-mail and photo to my high-school classmates at Memphis Technical High School for the class Website. I tell them, “See, an old Techie can still do it.”

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