APU LIFE: Your new book, Heart of Iron, chronicles your journey through four bouts of cancer, a bone marrow transplant, a heart transplant because of damage caused by chemotherapy, and your competition in the Ironman World Championship. When did you decide to do a triathlon?
Garlett: While waiting to get a heart, I worked with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training program, helping athletes train for races. I saw a number of people change their lives by crossing finish lines. I knew when I was no longer stuck on the sidelines that I wanted to cross my own finish line. That’s also where I met my wife, Carrie. In the hospital after the heart transplant, we picked out my first triathlon—Malibu. The first leg was the swim, and people were afraid I’d have to be dragged out by lifeguards. When I climbed out of the water, my family seemed surprised to see me. I thought, “Great, that’s really showing me some confidence!” Carrie ran the race as well. She’s a better athlete, so even though she started the race after me, I knew she would catch me. She caught me during the run. I don’t like the running leg, but that day was beautiful. I would have been happy if the last two miles had taken five hours. Carrie finished and then she ran back and ran the last half-mile with me, and we finished together. I’ve run longer races since, but that was my favorite.
APU LIFE: You went on to run many more triathlons, including competing in two Ironman World Championships in Kona. What relationship do you see between cancer and triathlons?
Garlett: When you’re in chemo, you can’t focus on eight months of treatment. It will defeat you in the moment. You just look at the next step. In a triathlon, you can’t look at seven months of training. You can’t look at the 140 miles on race day. You just deal with what’s in front of you. For 11 years, I was physically unable to do much at all. I couldn’t climb stairs, I couldn’t carry a bag of groceries, because I would get winded. Now, to be able to bike 80 miles and swim 2 miles—this euphoria washes over me. It takes me back to this childlike joy of riding bikes and enjoying my own physicality.
APU LIFE: What role did your faith play in your struggle with cancer?
Garlett: It’s funny, when I had cancer, nonbelievers would say, “Your belief must be a comfort to you.” I don’t think that was the case for me. When my cancer came back the third, the fourth time, I wondered, “God, what are you trying to tell me, because I think I should have gotten the message by now!” My faith and my relationship with a loving God raised more questions. I personally don’t believe God picks and chooses who gets afflicted with cancer. And because of that, I never prayed for God to cure me. Having seen families grieving over the loss of their six-year-old, to believe that He would save me because of my prayer, is to believe that He specifically chose not to save that child. I’ve seen too many wonderful and deserving people lose their battles to believe that God works like that. When I had cancer, my prayers were for strength, for moments of happiness, for laughter with a friend that would make the next 24 hours tolerable. Those were my prayers. And after enough of those prayers are answered, before you know it, you’re in remission and living life again.