Athlete battles back from major heart surgeries to represent GB

Andrew Wilde competing in Redcar during qualifying.
Andrew Wilde competing in Redcar during qualifying.

A dedicated triathlete who has endured three open-heart surgeries has defied the odds to qualify for a major international sporting event.

Determined Andrew Wilde, from Alnwick, will represent Great Britain for the first time at the World Age Group Championships, in Rotterdam, this weekend.

Rightly feeling proud, the 40-year-old admits that his medical battles make qualifying for the event extra special.

And he is using it as a chance to raise money for the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF), which supports children and families who receive treatment at the Children’s Heart Unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

The married father-of-two said: “I never thought I’d be able to qualify for a World Championships and I would have never got close had it not been for the Freeman Hospital and the amazing staff in its Cardiothoracic Centre. The Freeman heart unit is world class.

“In 2002, I underwent my first open-heart surgery at the hospital to correct a leaking aortic valve. The operation took more than eight hours and involved using my own pulmonary valve to replace the defective aortic valve and then using a human-donor valve to replace my pulmonary valve.

“After 11 years, doctors discovered a large aortic aneurysm and so I underwent another operation.

“Unfortunately, shortly after that, I contracted endocarditis – an infection of the heart – which severely damaged my aortic valve. That led to my third open-heart operation, during which my aortic valve was replaced with a bovine valve, from a cow’s heart.

“Each time I was a patient at the Freeman Hospital, I was amazed at the professionalism and dedication of all staff, including the phenomenal surgeon who performed all three of my operations and all of the staff on the wards.

“Going through these operations wasn’t easy, even as a healthy adult. It’s an even greater challenge for young children and their families and that is the reason why I’m fund-raising for CHUF.”

Andrew is a member of Alnwick Tri Club and has been competing is triathlons since 2004. He upped his training in 2016 in a bid to be more competitive in his age over 40 age category in local events.

So he is delighted to have exceeded expectations to qualify for this Sunday’s international event, featuring a 750metre swim in the Maas River in the centre of the city, followed by a 20km cycle, and finishing with a 5km run through Het Park.

Proud Andrew will be racing against more than 100 athletes from 20 countries.

He said: “I am really excited – I have never done anything like this before and I am chuffed to bits to qualify for it.”

Andrew, who will be competing in the 40–44 age group, hopes his journey inspires other people. He said: “I changed my goalposts as I got fitter. I hope it shows that it doesn’t have to hold you back.”

Alnwick Tri Club head coach, Tracey Sample, praised Andrew’s efforts. She said: “He has always been a very good swimmer and cyclist, but due to his heart issues, struggled to run well. Since his last operation, he has slowly come back to sport and over a period of about two years really focussed on his running and recently ran a 20-second personal best at the Druridge Bay parkrun.

“We are really proud of what he has achieved just coming back to sport, never mind reaching a level which is good by all standards within the country and the world.”

Andrew isn’t the only Alnwick Tri member to be representing Great Britain in Rotterdam. He will be joined by Vee Pollock – a fellow GB debutante – and Steve Carragher.