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Route to fitness began in hospital


John Finnessy's road to Saturday's triathlon in Brandywine, Pa., began with the chest pains that sent him to North Arundel Hospital, fearing he had suffered a heart attack.

That was seven months ago, when the Arnold resident weighed 220 pounds and wore size 38 slacks. Now, he's 50 pounds lighter, wears size 32 pants and is about to compete in his second triathlon since July.

Mr. Finnessy, a real estate agent in Annapolis, blames his earlier weight problem on his corporate lifestyle.

"My life became a career path more than a fitness path," said Mr. Finnessy, 29. "I thought that I'd just enjoy life. Little did I know that five years later, I'd be enjoying life in a hospital."

He refers to the chest pains, which came on a February afternoon and stretched down his arms and legs, as "a wake-up call." It wasn't a heart attack. The doctors told him an inflamed chest cartilage had caused the pain. Further hospital tests showed he was in trouble.

His blood had a low oxygen count, causing his heart to beat harder and faster. Toxins from alcohol were pummeling his liver. His cholesterol level was 218, his blood pressure 160 over 95. At rest, his heart rate was in the mid-80s.

By comparison, the average person's cholesterol level is between 180 and 200, blood pressure is 120 over 80, and resting pulse is 70.

"I had never been in that bad shape in my life," said Mr. Finnessy, who played baseball and pole vaulted for Parkville High School and Essex Community College. "Right then, I made a promise, because you only need to be scared once in your life."

After leaving the hospital, he began a strict diet, eating less than 25 grams of fat a day. Where once he ate eggs, sausage, and toast with butter every morning, he switched to fresh fruit and water for breakfast. A lunch of "anything I wanted" became a salad or a turkey sandwich with mustard. Steak and french fries for dinner were turned aside in favor of pasta and mixed vegetables.

Mr. Finnessy also began walking, riding his bike and jogging. In April -- two months after his scare -- he decided to get serious about his workouts.

"I was losing weight, and I started to think, 'Man, this is working,' " he said. "So I said, 'Let's set a goal. Let's shoot for something that's a challenge.' "

The goal and challenge became a triathlon in Pennsylvania. His daily regimen alternated among swimming 1 1/2 miles, biking 40 miles, and running five miles.

In July, he finished the triathlon events -- a 3/4 -mile swim, a 15-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run -- in two hours, 19 minutes.

Mr. Finnessy now boasts a 170-pound body that is more muscle than fat. His cholesterol level has dipped to 130, his blood pressure is 110 over 70, and his resting heart rate is 52.

He wants to finish this Saturday's triathlon in less than two hours and raise $1,000 for the American Heart Association.

"I want to give back and help them out because there could be someone who is dying in a hospital with some sort of heart problem," he said. "Fortunately, that wasn't me."

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