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Woman With Stage 2 Heart Failure Trains For Ironman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Kari Turkowski grew up in Richmond, Minnesota, a high school stand out because she learned to love sports early.

"Grew up in Richmond, Minnesota. Two brothers, older and a younger brother, and that's kind of all I knew was sports," Turkowski said.

She earned a scholarship to St. Cloud State, where she ended up on three teams.

"I was able to get a scholarship to St. Cloud State, a volleyball scholarship, and played volleyball there for four years and then the hockey team reached out to me and asked me to join the hockey team, so I played hockey and then track had asked me to join the team as well," she said.

That's why it was so strange after college, when she continued to work out but something was not right.

"Just one day I was out on my, I usually do 45 to 50 mile runs, about six, seven years ago, and I just couldn't keep the pace I wanted to, so I thought I was sick," she said.

It went undiagnosed for two years, until she got an appointment at the Mayo Clinic.

"And that's where they were able to see that there was a lot of scarring going on in the left ventricle of my heart that was causing the arrhythmias and then they saw the dialation of my ventricles as well," Turkowski said.

She had stage two heart failure, which is significant.

"The best definition is typically characterized by very limited blood flow. So for you and I working off of let's say 80 to 90 percent, she's roughly 30 percent at the most. So the blood flow that she's getting is far more limited than what we would be getting," Bret Bruininks said.

She kept trying to work out, but the mental toll was becoming devastating.

"I did, initially, when all this started I couldn't sleep. I was depressed like no other. I literally had panic attacks all the time and it took me a while to be able to find that peace of mind," Turkowski said. "And I think today I've come to the conclusion if something happens I'm going to go out doing something I love."

Now she had to make a decision on how to live her life. She went into depression and had to seek counseling.

"It grounded me and made me realize that at some point we are going to die, but it was just the confidence that you shouldn't have anxiety about the unknown, because I don't know what's going to happen. I don't even -- what if I don't make the Ironman that day and my body says no? You don't know what tomorrow's going to bring you," she said.

So she continued with a bucket list -- one that includes competing in an upcoming Ironman in Madison in a few months. That's right -- even with her heart issues progressing.

"It started to show my heart was getting worse. And so, but I still asked if I could still do the Ironman, this is just something for me that is a goal that I would like the opportunity just to try it," she said.

So they train. Brett Bruininks is an exercise physiologist working with her, training with her and will participate with her.

Kari Turkowski
(credit: CBS)

"We have a lot of good conversations on life," he said. "We have a lot of good conversations when we're out on the bike or on the run. A little bit harder in the swim obviously, to talk. We talk a lot about the goals of the future."

This is what she wants: To take an uncertain future head on, because she has decided that this is who she is. And living life is about living to win, not to be bogged down in fear.

"I think it's someone who's trying to take back part of their life," Bruininks said. "And a lot of people do that through different means and I think for her after being diagnosed with what she has and then going through a mild depression, I think it's a way for her to bring -- kind of take back some of that."

Because this is about conquering self, just like when she started to participate in high school, and sending a message -- to others, to herself.

"We have to life each day to the fullest and just appreciate it and if something happens it was supposed to happen," Turkowski said, "and so I want to be able to chase the things I want to do."

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