I have to say that on December 18, 2012 I was feeling pretty good. My kids were coming home for the holidays and it had been a great year. I had qualified for the US Triathlon Team at the National Age Group Championships in August. Although I had suffered a recent tear in my hamstring, I had the off season to heal. All in all, I felt like many triathletes, pretty bullet proof due to my fitness. However, pulmonary embolism was about to become part of my vocabulary and it should be for all triathletes.
I suffered my pulmonary embolism at 1:30 AM on December 19, 2012 and although I was jolted awake by severe pain in my chest, my high fitness level moderated the symptoms convincing me it was not serious. By the time I entered the hospital on Christmas eve, my condition was serious enough that I was there until New Year’s Eve. When I was able to get out of bed at the hospital, I had a hard time walking the loop around the ward without having to catch my breath.
Once I arrived home I started walking for short distances working my way up to a mile at a slow walk. The winter months, which are usually reserved for long endurance efforts at each discipline, were reduced to slow walks and swimming. Swimming meant going for 25 yards, stopping at the wall to catch my breath before swimming back. Outdoor biking and running were out as long as I was on a blood thinner. My focus went from preparation for World Championships in London to being able to jog again without extreme effort.
However, our bodies are marvelous machines and as winter turned to spring I began to see improvement. I could swim and run far enough to begin to think that I might be able to get in shape enough to begin racing again. My focus would be on local sprint distance Triathlons to prepare for London.
Over the summer my fitness improved to the point where I finished a sprint distance race and began to think about improvement in speed. A summer 5K was close to the speeds I had been doing the previous year and I finally turned to the final focused training for London. I am going with full confidence ready to face the best. I now know that understanding the risk factors for embolisms is critical for all Triathletes.
Wearing our nation’s colors has always been a dream of mine.
I first tried to qualify for the World Championships to be help in 2009 in Gold Coast Australia at the Olympic distance. However at the USAT National Championships, I ended up on the outside looking in by just 45 seconds.
I trained with new resolve the next season and successfully qualified to race in Budapest in September 2010. Training and racing were proceeding very well until early June when deep breathing became painful. There were other symptoms, but two weeks of doctors visits and tests failed to find the problem. Nothing made sense. I was a young, incredibly healthy athlete- other than the breathing part. Then on June 25 a contrast CT scan finally showed extensive pulmonary emboli (clotting). Both pulmonary arteries were about 90% blocked. My thought process went to…clot…brain…dead…I’ll never see my two kids again. It was terrifying.
Due to the prescribed blood thinners, I was no longer allowed to ride a bike- a fall could be fatal. As a result, I withdrew from the Budapest championships and concentrated on recovery. With hindsight, the PEs helped put life into focus. Triathlon and training are important, but there are more important things in life that had not been getting the attention they deserve- first and foremost was my family, but there were other pursuits and passions that I needed to make space for.
My dream was still there. So to keep life in better balance, I changed to the sprint distance. It took more than a year to reach my prior abilities, and I continue to improve. I qualified for Auckland, but deferred. I then qualified for London. My wife and I lived near Hyde Park 20 years ago and thought it would make for a wonderful family trip. So on 13 September I will realize my life’s dream of wearing the colors at a World Championship. I will put in my best effort, I will have fun, and I will appreciate the journey my family I have been on for the last three years.
Falmouth, Maine USA
I first stumbled in to the world of triathlon in 2008. I wasn’t as fit as I thought anymore and needed a new challenge. Passing 40 has its drawbacks and not being in the same shape as when 25 is one of them. Entering triathlon is like eating an elephant; it can only be done one bite at a time.
My first benchmark was avoiding to drown, keeping my rusty old bike together, and finishing off with a run that was not too wobbly through a sprint. The rest of the elephant was conquered in small chunks over the years with the final one being when I found myself crossing the finish line at Mount Gaustadtoppen having completed the legendary Norseman Extreme triathlon in Norway in 2012.
So now what?
I didn’t really know, but when the opportunity came along to compete in London in the World Championship in 2013 I couldn’t really resist the temptation. I had proven to myself that I could persevere and keep going through the long distances, but I wanted to see if I could find some speed as well. After all, fast-twitch muscle-fibres aren’t exactly what most Middle-Aged-Men-in-Lycra, aka MAMILs, are famous for. Besides what a boyhood dream coming to life wouldn’t it be to be able to compete in an international championship flying your country’s colours?
Training for London was well underway, when other events unfolded making triathlon less important. Having worked in the field of international humanitarian assistance for some years I know it may involve travelling to places where your normal training routines take a backseat in favour of more urgent matters. Just a few weeks before London I took up a position to work on the humanitarian situation arising from the Syria Crisis. Whatever preparations I had planned for London were put aside. In the big scheme of things, however, that was not a huge sacrifice.
Witnessing human suffering in areas of the world less fortunate than ours makes you aware of lucky you are that you can even be at a starting-line. It’s a humbling, but welcome, reminder. Everyday people around the world are forced to flee their homes and lives, and struggle to survive in humanitarian crises that many times are forgotten in our parts of the world.
You will still find me at the starting line next Sunday, competing in the AG 45-49. But, instead of trying to finish in the upper half of my group, I will most probably find myself further back in the field. That’s OK though… I’ll still try to swim smart, bike strong and run tough, but not to win or make a personal best. Only because I can when so many can’t.
My road to London has been a long one. From fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to Hyde Park has been an incredible journey. When I returned from combat, weighing 140lbs., it took quite awhile to gain the weight I lost having malaria. I was fortunate enough to hear about a Master’s Swim Program and started swimming again.
It wasn’t until four years ago did I find out about the Aquathon. Thanks to Gary Burnett, who was ranked in the “Top 3″ in his age group in the Olympic Distance Triathlon, informing me of the running and swimming event. He was instrumental in getting me involved. As the article says, I do each race for the 44,000 Brothers that are on “The Wall” that never had the chance to experience growing old. “They” are my support. I stride to live each day to the fullest for them!
I have had the rare opportunity to represent the US wearing a military uniform and athletic uniform.
If you don’t believe in miracles, I hope you do after this story.
I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in March of 2008 after being misdiagnosed for years. The cancer had spread into all my lymph nodes and there was concern that it may be in my cervix. Everyone prayed and I began chemo therapy immediately. At the time of my diagnosis, I had a slot to the triathlon age-group World Championships in Vancouver BC and I told my college sweetheart and husband (of now 23 years) and our three boys that I would compete and I would fight this ugly demon because cancer had picked the wrong person to mess with.
Less than 48 hours after my fourth chemo therapy treatment, I boarded the plan, sick as a dog but determined to race. Against all odds I finished the race nearly second to last. It was the hardest thing I have ever done because the chemo caused my fingers and toes to be numb, I had weight and was feeling and freezing the whole time. Transition was a mess and I thought I would fall off my bike…but a higher power helped me to hold on. Crossing the finish line, carrying the US flag was one of the greatest moments in my life and proof that nothing is impossible with GOD and
love heals all.
A week later, I found myself crying alone on a country road because my boys had asked me if I was going to die. How amazing to go from such a high to such a low. I wasn’t crying for me, but because they had to this cruel disease take so much and because they had to worry about losing their mother. In between my sobs, I heard GOD say…”Karen, I am going to take you through the valley and put you on a mountain and you will be singing.” It was so amazing. Fast forward to this past Triathlon age group world championships in Auckland New Zealand. Despite all the trials, I turned the final corner to the finish line and heard over the loud speaker “Here omes Karen Newman, She is second in the WORLD!!! and TOP American” I began to cry. It was the first time I had ever raced in October, Breast Cancer awareness month and as I made my way to the tent to pick up my jacket, a song came on the second I entered and I heard the words “YOU RAISE me up so I CAN STAND on MOUNTAINS, you raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, you raise me up to more than I can be” I fell on my knees and thanked GOD..you see….he had kept his promise of taking me through the valley at to the mountain….My mountain was a podium!!” and that night as I stood to receive my silver medal. I was indeed singing.
When I returned from New Zealand, against all ODDS, the pet scan in December revealed NO cancer. We serve the GOD of miracles. Prayers work and LOVE heals. I will be racing this year in LONDON for GODS glory and with JOY on my heart. Never give up your dreams, The impossible is possible. Love and blessings to all
Karen Newman (52 years old..racing Aquathlon
and Sprint worlds).