By ITU Admin on 04/09/09 at 12:00 am
My name is Kathleen Allen and I don’t think that anyone could feel more proud and grateful to represent the United States at this year’s ITU Triathlon World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia. You see, I was not supposed to be here. Or anywhere. There was question whether I would even survive. I was told I may lose a leg, or I may never walk again. I was told that I would never race triathlon again.
Let’s back-track a bit. I’m a mom. I have four kids. I was a smoker until I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I started exercising after my daughter was born 13 years ago as a way to “get back into shape”. I liked it! I found that having a little time for myself made me a more happy and relaxed mom. My daily walks turned into runs and my runs turned into races. I did my first marathon six months after the birth of my second child. As my fitness improved and my goals got bigger, I set my sights on triathlon. Training for my first triathlon, I suddenly lost my appetite. I knew there was only one explanation - I found out I was six weeks pregnant with baby number four. I decided to do the race anyway (a mini triathlon, a little shorter than sprint distance), really slowly and loved it! Oh, and I placed fifth in my division and was hooked.
I decided to wait until after the birth of my daughter to resume competition. After she was born, however, I began serious triathlon training. I worked very hard, often waking at 4:00 or 5:00 am so I could bike or run on equipment in my basement before the kids awoke. I set up a baby monitor next to my bike trainer so I could hear them if they needed me. I trained, I raced and I showed four kids how great it is to be healthy and take care of your body.
My hard work paid off and I began to place in some of the races I did. I was the overall winner at Tri For the Cure - Denver 2006, an almost 3,000 women sprint distance race, and in doing so qualified for the U.S. Team going to the ITU Triathlon Age Group World Championships in Switzerland and finished 13th in my age group. I did my first Ironman in Panama City, Florida in November 2006.
In 2007 I was stronger than ever. I qualified for the U.S. team for ITU Worlds in Hamburg, Germany and was the top 35-39 year old female in the Boulder Colorado 5430 Sports triathlon series. Things were looking great for a top finish in Germany. Then everything changed…
On August 24, 2007 during a routine training ride (five days before I was supposed to go to Germany to compete) I was hit by a large truck. I was going straight and the truck made a left turn directly into me. I was seriously injured. When I got hit I broke 7 bones, my neck at c-6, my back at t-8, t-10 and t-12, both my wrists and my top left rib. My glasses shattered into my forehead and my handlebars broke into my right finger, almost severing it. I tore my brachioplexus muscle and had no use of my right arm. I was unconscious for several minutes and had bruising and swelling in my brain. Once I arrived at the hospital they discovered that my left carotid artery was seriously damaged on impact and had a large clot in it. If that clot broke loose I could have a fatal stroke. They put me on high doses of blood thinner to break up the clot. I had a minor stroke. I also had a very large bruise in my right thigh. The blood thinners caused this bruise to bleed internally. I developed compartment syndrome in my right leg. They operated six different times to remove blood clots and keep the muscle alive. If they were not able to keep the muscle alive my leg would have to be amputated. I spent 22 days in the hospital and eight days in the intensive care unit. It was very hard on my husband and kids. Our community was amazing!
When I was discharged from the hospital I had a neck brace, a back brace and both arms in casts. I could not bend, lift or twist. I could not drive a car. I could not cook. I had to go side ways on the stairs. If I wanted milk in my coffee my kids had to get it for me because the jug of milk was too heavy for me to lift. Friends had to bring meals for my family and help get my kids to school. I could not tie my own shoes. This was very hard for me. I was used to being such a healthy and strong person. My husband was so supportive and never gave up hope.
I had to have another surgery to put a stent in my damaged left carotid artery.
I worked very hard at physical therapy. I kind of thought of it like triathlon training. I knew I had to start somewhere and that I would build onto that every day. I knew that I needed to be smart and follow a plan. I knew that I had to work really hard. I believed that the doctors did not really know if I could recover; or if some day I might be able to race again. I could not walk or run because my leg was so damaged from all the surgeries. I asked my back and neck doctor if I could swim. He told me I could not move my neck. I bought a “swimmer’s snorkel” and asked him if I could swim with that. He said yes and I want to the pool. I went at the same time as team practice so I could see all my friends. The first time I swam with my snorkel I think I was only able to swim about 100 yards. But I knew that was a start and that the next time I went to the pool I would be able to swim more. And I did. By February I was back to swimming with my team. Sometimes I even took off the snorkel and turned my head to breathe! I was also on the bike trainer a lot. In the beginning, I could not even bend my right knee enough to go one full rotation, but I worked at it. One day I did make it all the way around! The next day I rode my bike on the trainer for 5 minutes. The next day 10 minutes and so on. I built up my recovery the same way I built up my training. I remembered that I did not decide to do Ironman and then just go do it the next day. I had to start with one mile and then two and keep adding until I got to 140.6. I put my mind to it and decided that recovering from a near-death accident would be the same.
By the summer I started considering racing again. I knew I had made a lot of progress and I was swimming and biking regularly. Running was still really hard with my leg but I was making progress there, too. I decided to try USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships as my first race since the accident. I had only run 10 kilometres once since the accident but I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to race and feel healthy and strong. Most of all, I wanted to see all my triathlon friends who had been so supportive of me when I was injured. I did the race September 2008 and earned a spot on the US Team travelling to Gold Coast Australia 2009. It was a dream come true! I was an athlete again! I had actually recovered from all my injuries! I would once again have the honour of representing my country overseas racing triathlon!
I am so happy and honored to be able to race in Australia. Every day is a gift. Anything is possible with hard work and determination. I am living proof. As I write this I am so proud of all that I accomplished but at the same time re-living my accident makes me sad. I am particularly saddened that two of my fellow athletes were seriously injured on Saturday August 22, 2009. One of these athletes is my close friend, training partner and Team USA member Julia Purrington. She was supposed to go to the Gold Coast with me and we had great plans to sightsee and scuba dive after the race. She is in the hospital as I write. I know she can make it through this. I know the words to comfort her. I am grateful that my injuries did not compromise my ability to help her and her family through this.
One of my favorite sayings is a Hawaiian proverb “No Rain, No Rainbow” Count your blessings and be safe!
Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story
Kathleen Allen #479
Age Group Competitor – Olympic W35-39
Triathlon Writers: MyStory 2009
If you are attending the Gold Coast World Championships and have an inspiring or interesting journey to tell, send in your story to ITU attention: “Triathlon Writers” and we will inform you if your story is chosen to be published. There is no minimum or maximum amount of words. Just tell us like it is. Please provide pictures if possible.
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Two winners will be selected by their peers in an online poll at triathlon.org on Wednesday, September 9 and Thursday, September 10. Visit the new triathlon.org on September 9th and vote for your favourite MyStory.
All entries should be emailed to ITU. Click here to email.
Deadline for Entries is Tuesday, September 8th
Find more details about this event - 2009 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Grand Final Gold Coast