Team GB cyclist’s heart condition hasn’t stopped him pushing for the top
Cardiology Andy Tennant freely admits that the promise of bacon butties was key to persuading him to get out on his bike as a youngster. His career was almost halted by an issue with his heart’s rhythm.
The British Heart Foundation ambassador gives us his story of how one operation allowed him to fulfil his talent as a cyclist and reach the top of the sport in less than five years…
So Andy, when did you first realise you loved cycling?
“Cycling came onto my radar quite late really. I was about fourteen and used to swim pretty competitively, but a mate got me cycling and we’d go off-road trial biking. Before too long, I entered a race and managed to come last. The next day they held a ‘bacon butty run’, a 25-mile café ride, both on and off-road with the promise of a hearty breakfast at the end. It was my love of food that got me into cycling! I’d make it to the café, then have to get pushed home as I was so exhausted.”
How old were you when you found out you had a heart condition?
It was around the same time I was getting into cycling. “I was diagnosed with a heart condition called SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia).
I had an extra pathway to my heart, which would lead to my heart rate racing for hours at a time. My first attack happened while I was playing basketball. I was a fat kid, but it was nothing to do with that!”
What effect did your condition have on you growing up?
“After the second attack, I had an operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The surgeons performed a procedure on my heart by going up through my groin with a special tube to find the part of my heart that was causing the problem.
They performed several ‘ablations’ – burning away the troublesome extra pathways that were causing my heart to go mad. I’m incredibly lucky to have only had two attacks.”
Did you understand what was happening to you? You were quite young!
“I don’t think I was that bothered! Mum and Dad didn’t seem that worried. I wasn’t lying on the floor feeling really ill, I’d just have loads of energy. I remember being really excited in the hospital because they’d make me toast all the time. Again, it came back to my stomach! Mum and Dad said the operation was the worst six hours of their lives, but it wasn’t too bad for me.”
What advice would you give to other young heart condition patients?
“I always try and apply logic to any situation. With any bad news, it’s always emotion that takes over. You have to try and look at it logically and not let it affect your life. If you break it down, if you’re doing everything you can to either control symptoms or you’ve done everything you can via the medical route – that’s essentially all you can do. If you worry about the uncontrollable stuff, it’s just going to eat you up inside.”