How Coronary heart Surgical procedure Allowed Derek Drake To Discover His SuperMotoCross Beat

After transitioning from amateur to dirt bike pro in 2019, Derek Drake tried everything to improve his cardio until he was diagnosed with a heart condition that impacted his health and athletic potential. Drake, who has surgery in 2021, is back on his bike and spoke exclusively to M&F during American Heart Month in February to explain why even top athletes can be tested by their tickers.

“My dad got me into it when I was a little kid,” recalls Drake, who now rides for Team BarX Suzuki. “I got my first motorcycle on my third birthday. So I started riding on my third birthday and I've just never looked back. I never gave it up or anything.” In fact, Drake started cycling like a duck in water and was a top 10 amateur racer, placing well in the AMA Monster Energy Supercross Championship and other prestigious competitions.

Of course, dirt bike racing is not for the faint of heart and Drake has sustained numerous injuries from terrifying collisions and slips throughout his career, but is very adept at jumping straight back into the saddle once he's on his heels. At the moment, Drake is preparing to return to racing after breaking his left humerus in his shoulder. "This is a race for you," he commented on Instagram after the accident.

“Fortunately that last injury wasn't serious,” says Drake, who races in the 250SX class. "It could have been worse with the ligaments and stuff in my shoulder but nothing broke. The fracture has healed well and we should be good to go!” After recovering from heart surgery last year, a broken bone is a walk in the park for this racer.

Derek Drake was thrown off course by an erratic heart rate

"I've had a great amateur career," says Drake. “In amateurs we only have four or five big races a year, but when you go pro it's a race pretty much every weekend. I never really noticed (heart problems) because amateurs only do five to seven lap races and the longest race we do is 20 minutes at Loretta Lynn. It never really got to me. I knew my heart rate was high compared to others, but I didn't think it would be a problem getting into professional racing. But as soon as I turned pro, I noticed that once I hit the 20-minute mark, I was going backwards and all these other guys were going faster and faster.

"I thought something was wrong. For example, I do all the training and exactly the same things as my other competitors; Biking during the week and the gym, eating all the right things, but I just get tired. We hoed the tails out a bit to find out. We tried a beta blocker which sure slowed my heart rate down but it wouldn't work in the long run and I still had fatigue issues. I couldn't get strong in training during the week. My heart rate was 160 just for a normal bike ride when it should be around 120 or 130. I was never able to get that stamina, I was just weak and it took a lot out of me.”

Because Drake overtrained himself, he also lost weight. He was eventually diagnosed with a heart condition that required two heart surgeries. The first operation was an SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) ablation. This involves using cold or heat energy to create scar tissue on the heart to block and kill faulty electrical signals so a regular heart rhythm can be restored. "It worked well for about two weeks," says the daredevil. “My heart rate was solid, but then it slowly went down. The nerves started to grow back, so I had a second SVT done (about ten months later).' Fortunately, the second attempt seems to have held up and Drake's heart rate is back to normal.

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Derek Drake is back on his bike after heart surgery

"The recovery has been pretty good," says Drake. “They are inserted through your main artery (coronary artery) with catheters. They put medicine in your IV to make your heart beat faster, and they find the nerves that are overreacting and the cells that aren't doing what they're supposed to, and they kill them. But after that I had some burn marks from the inside out, through my chest. I got up the next day, took it easy for the next few weeks and after about a month I was back to normal training and feeling good.”

How did Drake's family feel about his return to dirt bike racing? "I think my family will let me do what they know about me," says the dedicated athlete. "Same goes for my fiancee, she's amazing and she's been with me since we were little kids and we're having a blast with it so we're just going to keep going." With his whole heart in the game, Drake is more motivated than ever, to advance his professional career in a rapidly changing sport. "This year they implemented the new Super Motocross combination," beams the racer. “It's really good for the sport and I'm looking forward to it. More races and more fans and we have these three new venues (zMax Dragway in Charlotte, Chicagoland Speedway and LA Memorial Coliseum) that are really cool. Supercross is in the closed dome, so it's really tight. And then you have the Outdoor series, which is open, natural terrain, longer distances, higher speeds and all that stuff. So what do you do when you combine both series? You have to build a hybrid track! I look forward to being back and racing under those lights.”

Follow Derek Drake on Instagram here!

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