By Meghan McCarthy
Shad Ireland isn’t feeling great today. But it doesn’t matter because Ireland is supposed to train today. He’s preparing for a race in a couple of months, and he’s scheduled to swim today.
Ireland, 39, has kidney disease, but that doesn’t stop him from doing much on most days. He’s in the midst of training for the IronMan World Championships this October in Kona, Hawaii.
After competing in nearly two dozen triathlon races, biking across the country, starting his own foundation and developing a tool patients with kidney disease can use to monitor their health, Ireland has put a face on a disease that many overlook.
A “Fatal” Diagnosis
Ireland was a healthy, active child with dreams of becoming a professional athlete. However, in May 1983, just before he turned 11, Ireland was diagnosed with kidney disease. The doctors told him that he’d have to go on dialysis while waiting for a kidney transplant. They also told him that he probably wouldn’t live past the age of 25.
Ireland started dialysis at the University of Minnesota shortly following his diagnosis. He entered the pediatric dialysis program with nine other children. All nine of the other children have died.
“I watched each one of them go,” Ireland said. “I felt hopeless and a lot of anger came from watching that happen.”
All the while, Ireland was still on dialysis and struggling with what was ostensibly a death sentence. He was depressed, and he turned to drugs and alcohol to fill the hole.
“It’s a hard way to live, waiting to die,” he said. “I felt horrible all the time. I was non-compliant. I wanted to be a professional athlete, get married, graduate college and go to law school. I was told I’d never achieve any of the dreams I had.”