Updated April 16, 2018

The Haywire Heart paperback by Lennard Zinn, Dr. John Mandrola, and Chris Case HHP 800x1200At this time, there is no research data available that shows the frequency of heart arrhythmias among endurance athletes. Doctors are accustomed to treating the sick and unhealthy, so heart conditions among otherwise very healthy endurance athletes often go unnoticed or misdiagnosed.

But after the publication of Chris Case’s groundbreaking VeloNews article, Cycling to Extremes, in the August, 2015 issue, Zinn, Case, and Dr. John Mandrola were overwhelmed with the response from the athlete community. Men, women, cyclists, runners, athletes from all arenas of sport and from all around the globe reached out to share their own stories of heart scares and their treatments. Their response inspired The Haywire Heart: How too much exercise can kill you, and what you can do to protect your heart, which has just released in a paperback edition.

Haywire Heart authors Lennard Zinn and Chris Case have compiled a list of current and former professional athletes who have heart arrhythmias that they’ve acknowledged publicly. Heart arrhythmias are not isolated to the pros, however. Take a look at the Warning Signs: Symptoms of Athlete’s Heart Conditions and also consider whether your love of sports might be an addiction that could cause future heart problems with this Exercise Addiction Quiz for Athletes. (You can also see a list of athletes who have suffered heart attacks, which are different from arrhythmias.)

Niels Albert
3x World Cyclocross Champion, Belgian
Unspecified, life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia

Larry Bird
12-time NBA All-Star basketball player
Atrial fibrillation

Lars Boom
Professional cyclist
Cardiac arrhythmia

Emma Carney
Ironman champion
Ventricular tachycardia

Nicola Coles
Olympic rower
Atrial fibrillation

Birgit Fischer
8x Olympic gold medalist in kayaking
Atrial fibrillation

Mardy Fish
Professional tennis player
Atrial fibrillation

Robert Gesink
WorldTour cyclist
Atrial fibrillation

Carlo Janka
World Cup alpine ski racer
Unspecified arrhythmia; underwent ablation in 2011 and returned to competition

Bobby Julich
Former professional cyclist and Tour de France podium finisher
Atrial tachycardia at a young age; treated with ablation with no further recurrence

Charlotte Kalla
Nordic skier
2018 Winter Olympics gold medalist and three-time silver medalist
Atrial fibrillation

Billie Jean King
39x Grand Slam champion and 20x Wimbledon champion tennis player
Atrial fibrillation; underwent ablation

Karsten Madsen
Canadian national off-road triathlon champion
Atrial fibrillation

Eddy Merckx
5x Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner, 3x World Road Champion
Atrial fibrillation. A cardiologist who examined him at the 1968 Giro d’Italia concluded that Merckx had non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic condition in which the heart muscle thickens, affecting its functioning. Read more on velonews.com.

Andy Paulin
Top US domestic pro cyclist on Crest and Lowenbrau teams
Ventricular tachycardia; has an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD)

Jeremy Powers
4x American cyclocross champion
Supraventricular tachycardia

Steve Pyle
Former professional cyclist and national champion in cycling, duathlon, and triathlon
Ventricular tachycardia; has an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD)

Mick Rogers
Former WorldTour cyclist and 4x world time trial champion
Congenital bicuspid aortic valve in 2001, unspecified arrhythmia in 2016

J. J. Rojas
WorldTour cyclist
Diagnosed in 2015 with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a congenital syndrome in which an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat. His condition was treated successfully.

Doug Smith
American national champion (and first cyclist to appear on a Wheaties box, Lennard notes)
Atrial fibrillation

Johan Vansummeren
Professional cyclist and former Paris-Roubaix champion
Retired due to cardiac arrhythmia

Greg Welch
Ironman and triathlon world champion
Ventricular tachycardia

Jerry West
14-time NBA All-Star basketball player
Atrial fibrillation

Haimar Zubeldia
WorldTour cyclist
Atrial fibrillation, successfully treated and returned to racing in 2012

Kim Kirchen
WorldTour cyclist, holder of the Tour de France yellow jersey for four days in 2008
Ventricular tachycardia (survived cardiac arrest in the 2010 Tour de Suisse)

Rob Waddell
Olympic rower
Atrial fibrillation

Greg Searle
Olympic rower
Atrial fibrillation

Tom James
Olympic rower
Atrial fibrillation

Nathan Cohen
Olympic rower
Supraventricular tachycardia

Case Studies from The Haywire Heart:

The Haywire Heart features nine athletes in “Case Study” interviews that explore the exercise habits that triggered a heart arrhythmia and how each athlete has treated, adapted to, or ignored their condition.

Jason Agosta
Runner
Highly symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation

Mike Endicott
Cyclist and cross-country skier
Ventricular Tachycardia

Paul Ernst
cross-country skier
Heart failure due to dilated cardiomyopathy

Genevieve Halvorsen
Cyclist
Atrial Fibrillation

Gene Kay
Cross-country skier
Premature ventricular complexes

Jenni Lutze
Triathlete
Premature ventricular complexes

Dave Scott
6x Ironman World Champion
Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation

Mark Taylor
Cyclist and mountaineer
Undiagnosed

Micah True
Ultrarunner
Undiagnosed

Other deaths: 

Michael Goolaerts
Professional cyclist
Died of cardiac arrest during 2018 Paris-Roubaix

Kevin Edwards
Masters triathlete
Died of cardiac arrest while alpine skiing

Alessio Galletti
Professional cyclist
Died of cardiac arrest in the Spanish race Subida al Naranco

Tim Pauwels
Professional cyclocross rider
Died of cardiac arrest during a minor race in Erpe-Mere, Belgium

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