Ironman Jackson Maynard Defies Death and Keeps Paddling
Overcoming three life-threatening medical conditions would be considered a miracle by most people's standards. For one Australian athlete, they have been merely obstacles on the path to becoming one of the top paddle athletes in the world.
Meet 24-year-old Jackson Maynard.
At only 18, Maynard was already a professional on Australia's Nutri Grain Ironman Series–which consists of a swim, run, prone paddleboard and surf ski races. The surf ironman is one of Australia's most competitive sports and attracts the country's most elite athletes.
"It's definitely a grueling sport and you train constantly everyday," said Maynard. "It's pretty demanding on your body both physically and mentally."
To stay at that level of competition, it takes one's full attention and energy. Unfortunately, that focus was diverted after Maynard went in for what he assumed would be a routine check-up.
Doctors spotted a suspicious freckle on Maynard's calf and after a biopsy, they revealed the spot was actually Stage II melanoma cancer. After emergency surgery–where doctors cut deep into his calf to remove the cancer–and a lengthy recovery, Maynard thought his problems were behind him.
A year later, Maynard's heart rate spiked at 220 during a routine training session in the pool. After his heart rate stayed near 200 for the entire day, he eventually went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome–a heart condition that meant he was born with four electrical nodes instead of three.
Eight months after successfully undergoing heart surgery to remove the extra node, Maynard's heart issues flared up again. This time he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation–an irregular heartbeat for which he takes medication.
"It could be worse and there are other people worse off in the world," said Maynard. "It's just something I deal with and it's made me a stronger person."
Despite the odds, Maynard has recovered and is back competing on the ironman circuit, notching a few top five results along the way. While he still has yet to win, it wasn't long ago he doubted whether he would ever race again.
"There were definitely times I thought I would never be a professional athlete again," said Maynard. "It was pretty daunting but I'm glad I kept my head down and kept striving to do what I do everyday."
While Maynard spends plenty of time prone paddling on the ironman tour, Maynard has begun to dabble in competitive standup paddling as well.
"There are so many different muscle groups that are applied when you are standing on a board," said Maynard. "It's something I really enjoy doing for cross-training and it gets you to the point where your whole body is screaming out for you to stop."
Maynard has participated in a few select SUP races on the APP World Tour and also finished runner-up this year at The Ultimate Waterman–a multi-discipline, invite-only contest.
"It is pretty cool to come from one professional sport to another one and see how it all works," said Maynard. "It's definitely refreshing but it can also be frustrating."
This weekend Maynard will test his paddling skills in the Maui Jim Ocean Shootout. The event brings watermen together for a five-discipline event including surf skis, outrigger canoes, SUP, prone paddling and swimming.
"It mimics a lot of the Australian ironman races back home, as well as incorporating a waterman side of it," said Maynard. "So you are doing basically every paddle sport and it really builds the basis of a waterman."
No one would deny that this Australian is one of the most inspiring watermen in the world. But Maynard doesn't dwell on his past accomplishments or celebrate what he's overcome–there's no time for that.
"You can't really take a back seat and relax for a minute because someone wants to take your spot and knock you off the top," said Maynard. "It definitely keeps you motivated to keep striving every time you are training and to keep pushing the limit."