NJ Ironman Athlete, 69, Competing Again After Heart Failure, Lung Cancer

Following two operations in six months, Donald Cooper returned to racing in tough competitions.

Donald Cooper on the bike portion of a competition

After a quadruple bypass surgery and a lung procedure, Donald Cooper competed in a half-Ironman warm-up race, and then the Ironman Maryland triathlon. Photo courtesy of Donald Cooper

When Donald Cooper learned he had to have two critical operations over the span of six months, he thought he would never compete in an Ironman triathlon again. But remarkably, he overcame heart failure and lung cancer and, at 69, is competing again.

Cooper, an IT specialist from Lakota Harbor, started running more than 20 years ago, but soon wanted a bigger challenge. He started competing in Ironmans, which include a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a full, 26.2-mile marathon run.

But Cooper’s athletic endeavors were put on hold in 2020 when he was diagnosed with heart failure. He had to undergo a quadruple bypass surgery that December. Soon after, he was diagnosed with lung cancer when a nodule was found on his lung. Six months later, he had to undergo another procedure. It was performed by Dr. Thomas Bauer of Hackensack Meridian Health, a former Ironman competitor himself who understood Cooper’s concerns. 

Both operations were successful, and Cooper was soon back to competing, first in a half-Ironman warm-up race, and then the Ironman Maryland triathlon. Cooper says he’s grateful to be competing again, but is thinking about taking some time before his next Ironman. “I don’t want to just finish next time; I want to be a little bit faster.”

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