Derek, now 31, has been cancer-free for nearly four years. The
survivor earned his highest placing as a pro at Wildflower 2015 and
hopes to continue his success in the 2016 competition.
In 2012, just after Derek Garcia had earned his pro card and
completed his first race as an elite training squad, he received a call
no one, and especially an athlete, wants to hear – he had testicular
The devastating cancer diagnosis brought Derek’s infant career to a screeching halt.
“It was incredibly scary,” Derek recounts. “We had two boys at the
time, had just put a huge amount of time, money, and commitment into my
new career as a professional triathlete. Everything was put into
question. My major concern was how I would be able to take care of my
family if things got bad.”
Eleven years ago, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Chemotherapy saved my life but it damaged my heart, leaving me with
heart failure. My heart progressively declined for the following seven
years, and each day I wondered just how much punishment one body could
endure before it gave out. Finally, four years ago, a generous soul
chose to save my life by donating their heart when they no longer needed
I first competed in Wildflower in 2006 when I was 14 years old. It was my first
Olympic distance triathlon, fueled by my training as a competitive swimmer. I guess you
could say I had a good coach to give me the details on the course. He was the original
Wildflower champion and repeat champion in 1986. Oh, and he is also my dad.
Now this year I will compete along with my UC Berkeley triathlon teammates and
some of the best collegiate triathlon teams in the country. Wildflower is so unique; it’s not
just a race, it is a festival. The weekend has been a large part of UC Berkeley triathlon’s race
season for numerous years. Some of us will race long course, and some will race short
course. But the thing we enjoy most is truly experiencing what the sport of triathlon is all
about. As a 14-year-old kid at my first Wildflower triathlon, I can remember looking up at
my dad and telling him something I noticed, “Everyone seems so happy here.” The
atmosphere of triathlon is so special; everyone is truly there because they want to be. The
same cannot be said for most other sports, and Wildflower embodies this ideal greatly.
My friend introduced Wildflower to me in 1991 and it was my first
triathlon. Back then you could drive up Friday night and grab a campsite
with no reservations or prepay and could park down by the starting
point in the morning. I coughed up a bug from earlier in the race and I
was hooked! I raced, I finished, I was pooped.
This year is my 20th race and was paid for by Terry Davis (Race
Director), thanks Terry. It was always a goal of mine to get to 20.
Wildflower is the race where I fell in love with triathlon and has
been The Holy Grail throughout my journey in the sport. It is the only
race that has the terrains of the hilly trails from my home town
Cupertino’s Fremont Older Preserve, and an energizer bunny waiting on
top of a hill to scream and cheer you on.
It is also the race where I turned professional in 2013, and have won the same age group category three times in a row!
My excitement for Wildflower began when my mentor in triathlon and
coach at UCLA, Brady O’Bryan, obtained his professional license in the
year 2010 at this very race, where he won the 20-24 age-group and was
2nd overall amateur in the Long Course distance. He has always been
someone I’ve admired, and I’ve been chasing him throughout my college
years during our grueling training sessions. I was inspired by his
performance to one day also get my pro card at Wildflower. I entered the
race in 2011, expecting a tough day, and boy was I right. I didn’t feel
100% on that day but I soldiered on throughout the whole thing, despite
being blown sideways on the bike by cross winds and getting hammered by
all the hills. In the midst of my daze, I thought about all the hard
bike rides I did with my friends, and all the hard runs in the trails
with my buddies back at home. There was something about the atmosphere,
the trails and people by the camp sides cheering you on with cow bells
that inspired me. It was one of those rare races where you get in a zone
and trance; you’re in so much pain, but you’re enjoying the experience
so much that you’re able to keep going. Every step felt like I was about
to fall over, but I was able to hold it to the finish line. I finished
6th overall, 2 minutes away from qualifying from my pro card, but I was
really proud of myself. Despite how I felt, and the tough course, I was
able to suffer and go to a place where I never went before. I was
inspired by the whole experience. The best part of the day was the boat
ride across the lake with my Dad. It was one of those moments that I
would cherish forever. Sitting on a boat, soaking in the sun, I was
already planning on doing this epic race again, and what I could do
better next year.