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Triathlete trains for Ironman after early Alzheimer's diagnosis

Triathlete chasing dreams despite diagnosis
Posted at 9:15 AM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-15 12:38:24-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Almost 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's a condition known to cripple the mind and quality of life, and it's one people typically associate with senior citizens. Dan Jaworski of Orlando, Fla., is determined to flip that way of thinking.

Jaworski got a phone call about three years ago while he was out for a run that changed his life. He was 54 years old when a doctor informed Jaworski of an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

About 5% of Americans living with the disease are younger than 65.

"The first thing that came to mind was Ironman Kona," Jaworski said. The competition is a superior test of mental and physical strength. It consists of more than 140 miles of running, biking and swimming.

Jaworski has been chasing the Ironman World Championship ever since his diagnosis.

"It's been really good for me because when I'm running, biking and swimming, I feel like I'm ahead of the disease. I feel like I'm punching back," he said.

"People think of Alzheimer's as an old person's disease. Clearly, it's not," Jaworski's wife, Julie, said. "He's setting a tone. It's horrible, but let's go."

Dr. Samantha Holden, an associate professor of neurology, spoke about the latest research on Alzheimer's.

"A lot of epidemiological studies are showing that up to 40% of cases of dementia could be prevented with lifestyle modifications," Holden said.

Holden advises patients to perform 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week and skip as many ultra-processed foods as possible. She said this kind of lifestyle can limit both the risk of developing Alzheimer's and slow its progression.

"You can take control of your brain health throughout your life," Dr. Holden said.

Jaworski will compete in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October. The competition begins Thursday.

"You have this day, and there's beauty in the struggle," he said.

Jaworski said he's dedicating each mile he runs, bikes or swims to someone he's met since his diagnosis including Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers.