Swimming Again After a Heart Attack, Athlete Regains His Stride

November 09, 2017 7:00 AM

A heart attack patient and former U-M athlete credits his “coach” not only for medical care but also for getting him back up to speed in the pool.


Nearly a decade ago, Larry Day experienced a heart attack at age 57. The lifelong swimmer was told by some of his doctors to “quit pushing it” in the pool.

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Kim Eagle, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, disagreed. He did not forbid Day’s swimming goals, but he told him to go slowly.

That empathy and advice marked the start of a shared bond. And it helped the patient return to an activity he loves.

“Dr. Eagle’s guidance and careful, controlled, evenly paced aerobic training brought me back, slowly but surely,” Day says.

Today, the relationship continues, with the award-winning swimmer naming Eagle his “medical coach.”

It’s a role that Eagle is glad to accept.

“Larry was very determined to get back to competitive swimming,” says Eagle. “But he had to be sure it was safe.”

Day, who competed with the U-M Wolverines swim team from 1969 to 1973, considers swimming a form of physical meditation.

The sport, meanwhile, remains a point of pride: In 2016, Day was selected by Swimming World magazine as one of six male Master Swimmers of the Year, having broken six world records in the 65-to-69-year-old age group.

‘I want to thrive’

The athlete says he’s thankful for Eagle’s approach to living.

“He asked me, ‘What are your goals?’” Day says. “I told him I wanted a good quality of life. I don’t want to just survive. I want to thrive.”

SEE ALSO: How a Cardiac Surgeon Keeps His Own Heart Healthy

Eagle’s approach to treating his patients is focused on partnership.

“A doctor and patient have to understand what the goals are for a patient’s care,” he says. “They have to trust each other.”  

Day continues to see Eagle each year for his annual checkup. He takes a daily statin to manage his cholesterol along with a baby aspirin, and he swims five days a week at his homes in Grand Blanc and Elk Rapids, Michigan. He seeks out pools when traveling.

Over the years, Day still feels blessed to have his faith, family and physician rooting for him both in and out of the water.

“There’s no guarantee that swimming or any sport will extend the quantity of our lives, but it certainly increases the quality of life for me,” he says.