Jonathan Recchi is a professional poker player and nurse in Philadelphia. He became a triathlete in 2012, and, after being passed by a woman three times his age, was quickly addicted. In July, Jonathan completed in Ironman Lake Placid.
But there is so much more to Jonathan. Twelve years ago, Jonathan was a junior in high school with a benign tumor on his parotid gland in his neck. After multiple surgeries with limited success, Jonathan had a big decision to make. Despite previous attempts to remove the tumors, they continued to grow. Jonathan was in pain all the time, and the tumors lead to issues with his hearing, chewing and talking. The surgery, however, required him to sacrifice his facial nerve, leading to major palsy for the whole right side of his face.
“I had finally reached a point in life where vanity did not matter anymore. The people who mattered in my life would not care that only half my face worked – I was still me.”
In October of 2015, Jonathan headed to Johns Hopkins to meet with a team of three surgeons – one to dissect the tumors and remove the facial nerve, one to drill into the base of his skull to find the facial nerve, and one who would remove a nerve in his leg and implant it into his neck to act as a new facial nerve. A return to 50% functionality on the right side of his face would be an outstanding result.
Prior to surgery, Jonathan had a very strong triathlon season, ranked 17th in his age group in his home state. He had trained for countless hours and was in the best shape of his life. He was strong. He was happy. And he was healthy.
In December and January following the surgery, Jonathan returned to Johns Hopkins for 25 doses of radiation over the course of 5 weeks. He could taste nothing, had painful sores in his mouth, and swallowing was difficult. His ears and nose were constantly bleeding. At 29 years old, Jonathan was completely miserable. His body just wasn’t the same.
The surgery and radiation side effects made it easy to enter a negative state of mind. He struggled to stay positive despite knowing that his 12 years of struggle would soon be over. To keep himself motivated and positive, Jonathan entered into an Ironman and bought himself a “get well soon” present – a brand new Dimond.
On March 1 of 2016, just four months before Ironman Lake Placid, Jonathan walked one mile. It took him 18 minutes and 35 seconds, and he was completely exhausted. The next day, he biked at 100 watts for 10 minutes. Again, exhausted. Slowly and surely, he worked to regain what the radiation had taken away.
In July, Jonathan set out to not only complete IMLP, but to do it in under 12 hours. Many people, including his oncologist, thought he needed a psych eval.
“During the race when my legs felt like giving out, when my lungs were burning and my body was screaming for me to quit, I remembered those dark days and what I had been through – the road that lead me to IMLP. I remembered barely being able to eat. I remembered every trip to the basement of the Weinberg Building at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for radiation. I remembered the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” playing during treatment and laughing at the irony. I remembered bawling my eyes out in the arms of my oncologist – telling her that I didn’t think I could make it through treatment. No one and no condition can take away my determination, my perseverance, or my spirit.”
Jonathan used his memories as fuel. IMLP couldn’t even compare with what he had been through.
“One of my favorite things at IMLP was immediately bonding with other athletes on Dimonds – one look, one smile, and you could tell that they were loving life just as much as you. Five hours and 59 minutes flew by. Most people remark how happy they are to get off the bike in T2, but it was the opposite for me. I didn’t want to get off! I was not only amazed at how well I felt during the bike, I was also surprised by how well I felt starting my marathon. No aches, no pains – just ready to get out there and run.
I will never forget hugging my mother at mile 24 of the run. I told her that I had 40 minutes to run 2 more miles to finish under my goal of 12 hours. We both cried for a bit, and off I went. I will never forget the feeling of crossing that line.”
Jonathan continues to set challenging goals for himself. He’s already signed up for Alaskaman in July of 2017. And that is just the start.
Jonathan Recchi, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! 11:47:32.
Thank you for your inspiration!