Amgen Tour’s young-at-heart volunteer

Bill Wohl, 67, lived with artificial heart for two months before receiving transplant

Special to The CambrianMay 8, 2014 

Bill Wohl

COURTESY PHOTO

It’s a pretty sure bet that Bill Wohl will be the only volunteer on the Cambria leg of the Amgen Tour on Wednesday, May 14, who is on his third heart. The 67-year-old Wohl, a world-class triathlete with a fist-full of medals, has had two heart transplants.

The first heart he received was a “SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart” which was transplanted in 1999 after a pair of “100-percent artery blockages” left him with an badly damaged heart. But 59 days later he was fortunate to have a donor heart planted in his chest.

Wohl is currently training and competing with the heart of 36-year-old Hollywood actor and aerial stunt man, Brady Michaels, which Wohl received Feb. 22, 2000. Michaels had a freak and fatal accident while performing a stunt on a reality television show, Wohl explained.

“I’ve been really blessed,” Wohl said during a phone interview Monday, April 28. “My heart’s 49 now and my mind is about 12,” he said, adding with a chortle. “Thank God.”

Wohl, who, with his partner, lives part of the year in Scottsdale, Arizona, and part of the year in Pismo Beach, doesn’t know yet what his specific assignment will be in Cambria, but it doesn’t matter because he is a competitor himself and enjoys being part of the action.

 “I’ve worked on a lot of big events,” he said. “I have always enjoyed watching the tour, and I race myself. Last year I volunteered in Avila Beach at the Amgen stop.”

At the Avila Amgen stopover he provided security to the “green room” — where the riders change into fresh clothes for the award presentations and interviews with the press.

Growing up with parents who were swim instructors and an older sister who made it to the finals for the U.S. Olympic trials in swimming, it is no surprise to learn that he began to run and swim when he was 4 years old. “Every family has a drag-along little brother, and I was it,” he said.

In fact, as to Wohl’s link to water and swimming, he was almost born on the beach. His mother was nine months pregnant with Bill at Brighton Beach in New York City with her feet in the ocean when her water broke; his mother was rushed to a hospital in Manhattan, and made it in time.

After success in sports at the high school level, Wohl attended the University of Maryland on a track scholarship. He was a half-mile specialist. In time, he became CEO of BMW Systems in Arizona, a company that specialized in satellite, audio/visual, home theater and electronics. But because he had been living in “the fast lane,” his life nearly ended when the blockage caused his heart to come close to shutting down.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks after the Amgen stop in Cambria, Wohl will be participating in the San Francisco Alcatraz Triathlon — a 1.2-mile swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, a 25-mile bike ride, and a 7-mile run. “That water’s tough,” Wohl explained. “It’s cold and windy, there are strong currents and just a few miles from there is the greatest number of great white shark attacks in the world.”

Moreover, there are “2,100 people trying to swim over your head,” he added. 

On Wednesday, May 14, Wohl will not be over his head no matter what his assignment might be. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great event.”

Email John FitzRandolph at johnfitz44@yahoo.com.

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