It’s undeniable that Lexington radiation oncologist Jonathan Feddock excels in two things: treating cancer patients and competing in endurance sports. Now, the 34-year-old physician is combining his two loves with his Ironcology organization in what he calls an almost accidental success. Based on his track record in medicine and sports, it probably isn’t accidental.
“Ironcology was a spur-of-the-moment thing to get a little bit of support—maybe $10,000 or so—but now we’ve raised over a quarter of a million dollars,” Feddock said.
Ironcology began in 2014, when Feddock was preparing to compete in Ironman Louisville. He raised money for a new cancer center at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center by starting the competition at the back of the pack and earning $17.77 in donations per competitor he passed. He passed a lot of people and raised a lot of money.
Since then, Ironcology has continued to grow in the little free time the doctor has to spare.
“I think it’s happening because it’s a story that is something different that people like,” he said. “Everybody has a 5K trying to raise money, but with mine, what I was asking people to do is really kind of simple: just make some small donations.
“I think it had a lot of different meanings because I was the physician raising money for my patients. I was the one doing it rather than a third person actually doing it. There’s a lot of people in the community that have gotten behind me.”
Aside from the difference that a physician was competing in the fundraiser is the fact that Ironman Louisville is much more intense than the typical 5K. The competition begins with a 2.4-mile swim in the Ohio River, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride and then a 26.2-mile (marathon distance) run. This is an event for the seasoned athlete.
This summer, Feddock, who has set his sights on continuing to improve the care of his patients, will host the second annual Survive the Night Triathlon fundraiser in Lexington. This event, a relay triathlon with teams of up to 10 members, takes place on the University of Kentucky’s campus.
Feddock’s athletic experience began when he ran track as a kid in West Virginia. He later earned a spot on the University of Kentucky track and field team and ran year-round. This schedule didn’t bode well for the chances of his ultimate goal of getting into medical school.
“I was constantly missing class and leaving to go to meets,” he recalled. “My goal was to go to medical school, so into my second year, I realized I couldn’t keep it up. I couldn’t get the grades and keep the athletic lifestyle, so I went about two years where I wasn’t running.”
Once in medical school, Feddock chose oncology without much pondering.
“Whenever people start medical school, there is usually something they gravitate toward,” he said. “For me, that was always cancer. I was just kind of fascinated by the disease and the processes of what causes someone to develop cancer and very interested in the types of treatments there were.”
Fortunately, he didn’t have any family members or close friends who were battling the disease.
“I picked radiation oncology because it’s a unique style of medicine, where, when a patient is referred to me for treatment, they’re really my patient for the next six to eight weeks,” the soft-spoken doctor explained. “And I see them every single day. The types of relationships you’re able to build with patients are unlike anything else.”
Some of those former patients were able to compete in last year’s Survive the Night Triathlon relay, causing their proud doctor to tear up at the finish line.
“You’re already being a part of the most important portion of their life in terms of their battle with their cancer, and then you really end up getting involved in their family—the ins and outs,” he said. “They’re here every day. You have to help them through every little problem they might have. To me, that was a unique dynamic, and I’ve really enjoyed it. And, of course, it’s a field that’s incredibly driven by technology.”
During medical school, Feddock met his future wife, Dr. Shannon Florea. She specializes in opioid addiction and is board certified in addiction medicine, rheumatology and internal medicine. She was finishing up medical school when Feddock was just beginning.
“I met Shannon at a 5K right before med school started,” he said. “She talked me into training seriously for half-marathons and marathons.”
Florea can take major credit for Feddock’s triathlon success.
“I had wanted to do Ironmans since I was 15 but never really committed to it,” he said. “Basically, when I was an intern in general surgery, that was the first year they had the Ironman in Louisville. So she signed me up and was like, ‘You’re doing it!’ Whether I wanted to or not, she signed me up, and she even bet me that she was going to beat me.”
Since that 2007 triathlon, Feddock has been arriving at the competitions better prepared. “That first Ironman, I rode my bike eight times beforehand, which was a horrible idea,” he deadpanned.
There were no more Ironman competitions for Feddock until he completed his medical training. The 140.6-mile swim/bike/run event is not something an athlete trains for just a few times and shows up ready to have a good time.
Once Feddock finished his residency, the couple decided to do Ironman Louisville again. Feddock qualified for the prestigious Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
“I qualified that year to go to the world championships, but didn’t claim it,” he said. “At the time, financially, it was a stretch; we had a 1-year-old at home, and I was just out of school.”
But Feddock qualified for Kona again and in 2013 made a family trip out of it. He finished in the top third of athletes. This year, he hopes for even better results in Kona on Oct 8.
“This year is different, because I actually have a coach for the first time,” he said, adding that getting in his training is difficult. “My training schedule is completely different. I put in short, high-intensity training sessions. I can’t do the long, long training runs.”
Now married 12 years, Feddock and Florea still compete in races together and are sponsored athletes on renowned triathlete Chris McDonald’s Big Sexy Racing team. Feddock said McDonald has agreed to let him represent both Big Sexy and Ironcology at Kona this year, and his bike will don the Ironcology logo and be painted in colors to represent the types of cancer he specializes in: pediatric, breast and gynecologic.
Feddock said his kids—two boys ages 6 and 8—are thrilled about having a Hawaiian vacation, and Florea is still trying to qualify for Kona to make it a full family affair.
“The boys like it, and we try to take them to all of our races,” Feddock said. “Usually, we will stagger our races so one of us can run, and one of us can be with [the boys]. This year, they had fun in Louisville because they worked at an aid station with their friends. They were handing out water and sponges.”
Knowing his family is waiting for him is motivation to go faster, he added. “I know if I quit and start walking, that’s the longer my kids are waiting around,” he said. “I’m out there thinking, ‘I’ve got to finish.’ ”
When he competes, Feddock said he avoids trying to “stay in the zone.”
“It’s such a long day, so if you’re concentrating too much, you’re going to wear yourself out. I think about the reasons that I’m doing it; like I want to make my kids proud, want to keep my wife interested,” he said.
Despite their hectic schedule, the competitive duo are dedicated to their family first.
“I believe wholeheartedly in not taking time away from my kids,” Feddock said. “So when I train, it’s 4 a.m., and I’m done by 6.”
About once or twice a week, Feddock and Florea get in a training session during regular hours, and weekend training will sometimes be incorporated. To them, a bike training ride is considered a date.
“I sleep for about four-and-a-half to five hours a night,” Feddock said. “I catch up on Fridays and Saturdays.”
Weekends are devoted to soccer or karate for the kids, maybe some Ironcology catch-up or housework.
As a doctor putting in long days at the hospital with his patients—some days he sees as many as 44 patients—he has found that his hectic schedule can be a good tool in broaching the topic of exercise with his patients.
“Everybody Googles their doctors, so I don’t volunteer [information about my training],” he said. “But once they get to know me, I do talk about it with them a lot. Once someone has gone through cancer, we know they’re depressed; we know they’re struggling. We know afterward people have post-traumatic stress over it. And there’s a lot of weight gain that follows treatments. So I do talk to all of them about finding time to exercise.”
Some of his patients say they don’t have time, and Feddock said the words “if I have time, you have time” often leave his mouth.
He also delivers tough love on certain health issues, like smoking.
“I have a hell of a lot more authority in telling people to quit smoking when that comes up,” he said. “So I’m a huge advocate of quitting smoking. I’ve had patients remind me of how I’ve taken their cigarettes and thrown them away. If you walk in with a purse and have cigarettes in it, I will take them and throw them away.”
He encourages his patients to use exercise as emotional, mental and physical healing when they are recovering from cancer. It fits beautifully into the bigger picture he’s painting with Ironcology.
“I never thought I would raise so much money with the first Survive the Night race,” he said. “But the real thinking that came back around is that I started having patients come into my clinic and say, ‘I like what you did, and I’m inspired by that, but there’s no way I could ever do an Ironman.’ So that is the exact reason that, when it fell into my lap that I could potentially hold my own triathlon, I said to myself, ‘Here’s a great opportunity where I can create a team event that all of my patients could do.’ ”
So he continues to build it and continues to raise money to help people suffering through cancer.
This year, his patients can watch him on television competing in Hawaii and be encouraged by his story.
“I have a couple patients who have actually taken on Ironman or have actually started using triathlon as a means of recovering and getting over their cancer,” he said.
Ultimately, Feddock would like to see Ironcology grow into an organization that supports cancer patients and those recovering from cancer, using exercise as a tool to get better.