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With money and fight, Kirtley pushes for school choice

John Kirtley stepped away from a conference on school choice, plopped into a chair and breathed a deep sigh. He was tired.

The Tampa venture capitalist who has devoted $2.5-million, maybe $3-million, of his money to the cause of school vouchers was wishing he had a lot more money.

"You know, I wish I was Ted Forstmann," said Kirtley, 36, referring to the financier who has pledged $50-million to the cause. "I wish I had that kind of money."

Kirtley had another reason to be tired. It's his heart.

Kirtley, a veteran of the Ironman Triathlon, recently learned that his heart isn't working properly. The sinus node, which generates an electric impulse that causes the heart to beat, is not doing its job. His heart rate is erratic. It won't go as high as it should when he exercises, and drops dangerously low when he sleeps.

Though Kirtley still looks like the fittest person you know, the heart condition means he can no longer rattle off five-minute miles, swim for miles in the surf or spend hours on his bike.

"I did my last Ironman with half a heart," Kirtley said.

He has made tentative plans to have a pacemaker inserted. Though they still can't say why the condition suddenly cropped up (it is more common among children), his doctors tell him the pacemaker will regulate his heartbeat.

Kirtley just wants to remain fit so he can continue to devote himself to the school choice cause.