Racing for Fran: John Hartney

August 10,2018

Last year, I was matched with Fran Etzkorn as part of Team PHenomenal Hope’s Let Me Be Your Lungs (LMBYL) program. LMBYL matches athletes with pulmonary hypertension (PH) patients, so we can get to know each other, encourage each other, and help to inspire each other as we face our challenges, share each other’s stories, and raise awareness of PH.

Fran is an inspiring individual whose persistence and determination in battling PH puts me in constant awe. In getting to know Fran, I discovered that while she was a volunteer firefighter, she was instrumental in getting a new fire station built in Golden Gate Canyon. Coincidentally, or maybe not, the fire station sits near the end of one of the toughest, longest, and continuous road bike climbs on the front range of Colorado. I have ridden this climb several times since I learned about Fran’s part in getting this station built. It always gives an extra boost for that last couple of miles when I pass the station and think of Fran.

For the LMBYL program, I am racing in the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race (MTB) on August 11. As part of my training, I competed in the Silver Rush 50 MTB earlier this summer. This race is also in Leadville, Colorado, so it starts around 10,000 feet of elevation and climbs to above 11,800 four separate times. What racing at this elevation means (and what I failed to appreciate on race day) is that your legs can only generate 70%-80% of the power that you can at lower elevations due to the lower oxygen availability. Needless to say, I went out like I was racing at Denver’s elevation (5,000 feet) and paid the price around mile 35. I cracked and ended up walking my bike for about 15 minutes before I could recover enough to start pedaling again.

The experience of overexerting myself and not being able to catch my breath and recover really struck home for me as to how it must feel to live with PH. Thinking of what Fran must go through when she feels short of breath day in and day out made me realize how trivial and temporary me being short of breath during a race is. Thankfully, with Fran as my inspiration, I was able to get back on the bike and finish the race with a new personal record of six hours and 17 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than my time from 2017.

I am so thankful to have been paired with Fran and to be inspired by her. I am hoping to complete my first Leadville 100 this year in under 12 hours, so I can get an official finishing time and belt buckle. Any donations would be appreciated and can be made here. Thank you for your time.

John Hartney


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