Like many of us with bleeding disorders James DeFilippi remembers doctors telling him, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” And like many of us he felt like that had a huge impact on his mentality. “For me, for a long time, I felt like I had something to prove,” James reflected. It is that drive and that mentality that has helped him successfully finish 40+ triathlons, 2 IronMans, a handful of marathons and a selection to represent Team USA in the 2014 Olympic Distance Age-Group World Championships.
His journey with mild hemophilia began with a diagnosis at birth after his older brother was diagnosed a few years earlier. In retrospect, his grandfather probably had mild hemophilia as well but was never diagnosed. James describes himself as a rambunctious kid with bleeds happening around once a month. He also was unfortunately infected with Hepatitis C through contaminated factor. He had to fight through Interferon treatment in his early teens, “It was brutal, absolutely brutal” and thankfully he cleared the virus.
College was a huge turning point for James as far as controlling his hemophilia. He was on the rowing team in high school and when he joined a division 1 rowing team in college his access to strength coaches and trainers changed his perspective. His trainers took time to understand his condition and adapt his training for it. “It kept my joints stronger and more mobile to avoid injury” a philosophy that he still lives by today as he follows his new passion of running, cycling and competing in triathlons.
Training for triathlons is a lot of work and James knows he has to #playitsmart in order to compete at the level he wants. “I started small and worked my way up to longer distances, and I’ve been able to go very fast at triathlons … but it’s because I spend the time to do the strength and flexibility work and I am kind of careful to go to the edge but not go past it regularly.” Being fast at those triathlons has lead to him joining an elite amateur triathlon team called Team Every Man Jack. Being a part of such an amazing team provides James the opportunity to be surrounded by the nation’s best amateur triathletes. In addition, James has a professional triathlon coach who understand his personality and his bleeding condition, and tailors plans regularly for him, to ensure he is ready on race day, no matter what the setback. He is open about his hemophilia with his teammates, but doesn’t typically lead with it. “I want to be considered for my athletic abilities first and second for having a bleeding disorder.”
James also believes that being successful physically with hemophilia is in part due to making smart choices in what sports we choose and how we approach them, something I agree with fully. “I literally believe that you can do anything you want if you have hemophilia, it’s just a matter of understanding consequences and being willing to deal with it.” James tells me. We both agree that you have to take ownership of your condition and your health. James is an amazing role model for this but he is also quick to point out others in our community that are incredible role models. “You look at somebody like Barry Haarde, who’s an older guy who’s had issues in his life but now is riding his bike across the country and now there are guys trying to row across the Pacific Ocean and climb the Seven Summits! The more people like that out there, that are showing other people what’s possible, then I think more people will understand how to pursue their dreams and find success and fulfillment.”
James so fervently believes in this message that he started his own not-for-profit with his siblings and a friend called ST3: Strive Today, Transform Tomorrow that will help support individuals that are chasing amazing dreams. This year ST3 is supporting Barry Haarde’s fifth ride across the country. “My goal is to support people who are doing things that push the limit but also people who are doing that in a responsible way and are being role models for the community.”
James is also going to have a busy year competing. He just completed the Boston Marathon for the 3rd time, will be running the New York City marathon for 1st time, compete in 6 triathlons and is also climbing Mt. Rainier like myself. I can’t wait to hear how all his competitions go and to follow his incredible journey! If you want to keep up with James, please check out the blog on the ST3 website (www.strivetoday.org) or the ST3 Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ST3Transforms), where he will post recaps of his adventures!
To follow my Mt. Rainier climb stayed tuned on May 23rd and be sure to follow me on social media and twitter for updates and pictures.