MyStory: Dream of a Try-Athlete

by ITU Admin on 28 Aug, 2007 12:00

The second installment in the ITU’s MyStory series.  For the past two months, the International Triathlon Union has invited age-group athletes to send in their stories about their personal journeys to Hamburg for the BG Triathlon World Championships.  We were overwhelmed with the response and received many inspirational stories of how triathlon has positively impacted peoples lives.  As the event nears, we invite you to read a selection of the ten finalists stories.  We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.  Thanks to all for entering and good luck in Hamburg and future races!!
ITU Media team

With the Hope and Dream of a Try-athlete
By: Kim Wedgerfield (CAN)

    I was a happily married mother of two, working a Chief Executive Officer.  I was just beginning part-time studies on a MBA.  I was training for my first triathlon and was very active in many sports.  Life as I knew it was great!!!

  On September 22, 1989 I was stopped behind a car and a driver who had been drinking, but wasnt drunk didnt see me stopped.  Well she smashed my car and I hit the car ahead of me.  My head bent the steering wheel of my car.  I ended up with various physical and brain injuries.

    The Kim I knew died that day!  I ended up spending years doing rehabilitation and am now a 48 year old, single mom on a disability pension.  I worked for years to get better and 9 years after the crash I finished my first triathlon.  I swam in the team event using one arm and one leg.  We came dead last, but got the gold medal, as we were the only team in our age group.  Since then Ive been able to ride a bike and then run.  I need to use a foot brace and walker to run and people walk faster than I run, but I have done many triathlons. 

    Four years ago I tested positive for a disease that unless they find a cure, will eventually be terminal. Due to the injuries from the car crash and now from this new illness I need to do about 4 hours each day to have my body and brain stay at the level it is and so I had to find a goal to do so much work.  Triathlons give me the motivation to keep going.

    I was riding my bike a couple of years ago and a driver turned her car left in front of me.  I thought triathlons were over for me.  With the help of a couple of great physioterrorists I was able to compete, one year later, in the Strathmore Womens sprint triathlon.  Well, I was so spooked as I hadnt been able to ride my bike and when a car came by too close I fell over.  My elbow had non-displaced fractures in two places which meant no cast.  This happened just a couple of weeks before the World Masters Games, which were to be held in Edmonton, Alberta.  The rehab team worked on me and I was able to compete in Edmonton by swimming using one arm and using a friends specialized 3 wheeled bike. It took 3 hours to do a Sprint and I came dead last. I was the only female A.W.A.D. (Athlete With A Disability) in my division.  I got the gold medal and was featured in the newspapers and other forms of media.

    I continued to compete and on July 9, 2006 I was going to attempt my first Olympic distance triathlon.  I knew if I finished, Id qualify for the World Triathlon Championships to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in September.  As Im a single mom on a disability pension, I knew I couldnt go, but having it as a goal, gave me something to keep doing so much rehabilitation and training. 

    Due to the media coverage Id received the year before at World Masters Games and being recommended by the staff at the International Triathlon Union, in Edmonton, Alberta, I ended up doing a noon hour television segment. As a result was called and then interviewed by several others television and radio stations.  I had also been interviewed and then photographed for the Edmonton Journal newspaper.  I was told the story would be in the Sunday morning paper, but I wasnt able to get a newspaper before I headed down to do the triathlon.

    On Sunday, July 9, 2006, I stood at the shore of the Hawrelak Park pond waiting to go into the water.  A.W.A.D.s were called to pick a spot at the water.  I stood off to the left side as far as I could go so I wouldnt be in the way of others.  The rest were called to the start and a man came up to me and asked if I was going to Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the World Triathlon Championships.  I laughed and told him that I wouldnt be going, but just wanted to cross the finish line.  He asked if Id qualify and I said.  If I finish.  He told me that I just needed to make sure I finished, that Id be going to Lausanne, that he was paying for me to go.  Well, he was wearing a wet suit, swim cap and goggles. I couldnt tell what he looked like and I thought he was just joking or maybe just trying to get me motivated.

    I did the race and when I came around to the finish line the Elite women were getting ready to be marshaled to the water.  The announcer told a bit about my story and the media stuff Id done. The women came to the side and cheered, clapped and gave me great encouragement.  I started to cry.  When I crossed the finish line media interviewed me and asked how it felt to be going to Switzerland.  I told them I wasnt going. One of the event organizers came up and told me that the man from the water wasnt joking, His name was Chuck Amerongen and he had read the article in the newspaper.  He is an accountant from Edmonton, Chuck Amerongen and Company.  He, his business partners and many clients were sending me to compete at the Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Later I found out that not only would I be competing, but would be staying in Switzerland to go on a cycling tour for 15 days.

    On August 27, 2006 I left for Switzerland, still pinching myself to see if it was real.  Ironically it was the same day Chuck Amerongen was competing in the Iron man Triathlon in Penticton, B.C.

  I spent the next week meeting people from all over Canada and the world, touring Lausanne, doing team lunches, pictures, Opening Ceremonies and other fantastic activities.  I was terrified when I had to try to find a major part for my bike that went missing on a plane somewhere between Calgary and Lausanne.  It was the screw that held the handlebars on my 20 year old Gardin bike. I had the bike part, but missed the training rides for the bike course. 

    On September 2, 2006, my 48th birthday, I slipped into Lake Geneva, in Lausanne, Switzerland along with 50 others Athletes With A Disability.  There were 12 divers who went with every group all day.  If you got into trouble, a diver was right there. The horn blew to start the 1500 meter swim.  I was so nervous and the water was really wavy.  About a quarter the way into the swim, I turned to breathe and got a huge wave in my face.  I swallowed water and began to choke.  I couldnt get it under control and I saw a diver come toward me.  He was going to lift me out which meant that a boat would come and pluck me from the Lake and I would be disqualified.  I waved my arms to motion No! and I gave thumbs up.

    I flipped over and started to do the backstroke.  I was still choking and water kept going over my face with each wave. I finally got my breathing under control and I flipped over again to start doing the front crawl.  The diver stayed with me for a fair distance. I was able to catch up with the back group and was finally out of the water after 39 minutes. 

    My aide, Pamela Fralick who was one of the Team Canada managers, and also a formaer Canadian Triathlete, helped me with my wet suit handed me my glasses and walker.  With her words of encouragement, I headed to the transition.  I put my helmet on and grabbed my bike. I left transition and went out onto the bike course and what a course!!!! Due to my bike problems, I hadnt been able to tour the course before the race and it was a lot harder than I imagined. There were so many hills and they were so hard.  One of the hills was so steep going down and it had a section of cobblestone in the middle, followed by a hairpin turn at the bottom. I saw the several of the younger men crashing on this stretch of the course, as well as, on other parts of the bike course. 

    When my bike and I were hit by the car two years ago, the bike had to have the derailer replaced. I can only access 3 to 5 gears, which have to be shifted manually and the chain falls off constantly. Well sure enough, my chain would fall off on one particular hill every single lap of the course.  I was distracted by the new bike problems, the chain falling off and watching the men crash that I forgot if I was starting or finishing my third of four laps. I was the only female A.W.A.D. in my category so I knew if I finished the race, Id get the gold medal. I didnt want to get disqualified. I decided to do an extra lap and sure enough I did 50 instead of 40 kilometers, but I didnt get disqualified.

    After I completed my last lap on the bike, I entered transition again.  I put on my foot brace, grabbed my walker and started the 10 km run.  I was so emotional on the run.  There were over 2500 athletes from over 50 countries.  I had started the swim at 8:45 a.m. followed by age groups of men, then women. I have never experienced the kind of support from fellow athletes, as I did that day. The men ran by many shouting or quietly expressing encouragements.  I think most of the men hit my left shoulder in support. A few even hugged me when I stopped to readjust my foot brace. 

    One Swiss newspaper estimated that there were over 60,000 spectators.  It was such an emotional rush to see people waving their countrys flag, hearing them clapping and screaming CANADA! as I ran by, yelling encouragements at me in so many different languages on each of my 4 laps.  Many of the Canadian women were waiting for their start time and they, along with many other Canadian spectators yelled my name as I ran past.  People from many other countries started to call me by name. 

    There were people from the U.K. who teased about the basket on my walker, asking if I was going to the market. There was one American coach whose encouragements for me were so loud and so funny that I stopped and told him he needed to climb over the barriers, sit on my walker and keep me motivated.  There were groups from many countries who went nuts on each of my laps.  I think the most memorable was from Mexico. Several were crying and I thought they were going to come right over the barriers onto the course. It was such an emotional, exhausting, amazing experience that I didnt want it to end. I get teary just thinking about it all!

    The race took 4 hours and 37 minutes to complete and when I was running down towards the finish line, someone handed me a small Canadian flag.  I rounded the corner and the finish line was in sight.  A young man from the U.S.A. (whom I later met named Vinnie Monseau) had come up to me and could have easily run past. Instead, he stopped, put his arm out and down and let me cross first.  I wished I could have been able to get a copy of that finish line video as its such an amazing act of chivalry and sportsmanship.

    For the rest of the day I got high fives, hugs, kisses, picked up and carried and congratulated from thousands of people.  Many asked for pictures and autographs. I just laughed, but the people I was with told me to suck it up and enjoy every minute. It would be my only 15 minutes of fame.  So I did!!!

    Later that evening, about 15 Canadian athletes and I went out for dinner.  They got me a piece of cake and a sparkler to celebrate my birthday.  Wow! What a way to spend my 48th birthday!  I was in Switzerland, had just competed in a World Triathlon Championship race and won a gold medal for my country.

    The next day, a bunch of us went to watch the Elites race and then went to the banquet and awards.  After dinner the A.W.A.D.s winners were called up first to get medals.  My category was second to be called.  I was literally lifted onto the stage and up to the gold medal platform.  I was given a gold medal in front of thousands of people who clapped and were so loud with their encouragements.  I was presented with a big gift basket filled with cheeses and when I got down from the podium and there were pictures and hugs from so many people.  Eventually I made my way back to my table.  When I took off and looked at the gold medal I just started to sob. What a dream of a lifetime and all thanks to an accountant from Edmonton, his business partners and many clients whom Id never met before!!!!

      I thought it couldnt get better than that until I started the cycling tour through Switzerland.  There were 27 of us who cycled through farmers fields, vineyards, Villages, Cities, Cantons, up and down the Alps.

    The easiest day was a mere 70 km ride, which ended with a 10 km switchback up to the hotel.  I had some bike trouble at the 6 km mark. I walked 2 more km of that switchback and when the tour truck came up I had to get a lift for the last 2 km. The hardest day began in Merengen, went through Interlacken, up the Alps where we met up with hundreds of decorated cattle being paraded down the Alps for the winter.  We climbed a 21 km switchback up to Kanderstag, took the Auto train through the Alp followed by a long switchback down the other side of the Alp where I led the pack down through the car tunnel. When I got to a spot on the road I could pull over I stopped.  I was shaking, not just much from holding onto my brakes the whole way, while picking up speed, but for the shear terror and exhilaration of riding down the side of Swiss Alp on a bicycle.  We rode that day through hot sun, some snow, rain, really strong cold winds and after 130 kms and over 9 hours we made it to our destination, cold, hungry and covered with cow manure from cycling through the cattle parade. 

    I had always dreamed of traveling to a couple of European countries. I knew with my financial situation, disabilities and especially now with this new illness I would never get there.  Well thanks to the Chuck Amerongen and the other sponsors I got to go to Switzerland.  On the last day of our cycling tour it was pouring rain.  Most people wanted to take the train to Geneva.  I wanted to cycle and when my cycling buddies said that rain was for flowers, I teased that well I guess I was a flower that needed some watering.  Well, most of the group decided to go for it.  So on that last day of our tour we cycled in the pouring rain, from Switzerland through France and ended up back in Geneva where wed started two weeks earlier.  Two of us, soaked to the skin, had our picture taken in Evian, France with a couple of bottles of Evian water so I could prove I really had made it to two European countries. The whole trip was the most exhausting, exhilarating experience of my life.

    I took a short rest after Switzerland and then starting training again to try to get ready for the Edmonton triathlon. I couldnt believe that tragedy once more and with such a vengence.  On February 13, 2007 I was driving my 1991 van to my spin cycle class.  A big red truck blew a stop sign. My van t-boned the truck and I ended up in the hospital.  The spine and nerves were injured in parts of my back and though they are healing, it’s such a slow and painful process.  I continued to work extremely hard every day.

    While in hospital I got a call from Calgarian Josie Daub. Josie was a fellow member of the Age Group National Triathlon Team. It was Josie, her father, his friends and many others from Velo Quebec who cycled in Switzerland after the race. Josie, her father and stepmother came to see me in the hospital.  The presented me with a little box of Pot of Gold chocolates to signify my gold medal in Lausanne.  I pulled, from the gift bag a picture of a beautiful cycling jersey they had made.  Several people from the cycling trip had gotten together and sold these jerseys, got several sponsors and raised money.

  Everyone on the trip teased me about my bike as the chain constantly fell off and it was so heavy and had only a few gears.  I sure needed more on some of those hills and Alps in Switzerland.  I always teased back that I just got a gold medal with that bike and that even though it was not a shiny new one I very was proud to have it. With the money they raised the group bought me the most amazing racing bike I’ve ever seen.  A very dear friend was with me when this all happened. None of us could stop crying. I was at a loss for words. When I wheeled back to my room I told my nurse what had happened. From that day forward nurses, support staff and other people would come into my room and would want to see the pictures and hear the story.   

    I put the pictures of the jersey and bike on my wall.  The next morning the doctors came to do rounds.  I showed them the pictures and told them that I needed to be out of hospital right away so when the bike arrived in town, I could be home to ride it to be ready for the Edmonton Triathlon. I was told that there was no way to make me heal any faster and that it would just take time. I told them all that they needed to bring a magic wand to fix me. Every morning during rounds I asked the doctors if they brought that magic wand. 

    After 3 weeks on the trauma/surgery unit I was transferred to the rehabilitation unit. After several weeks I was told I wouldn’t be able to race and was devastated.  I need to have that light at the end of the tunnel. I needed hope to keep working so hard to get better.  I cried so much that I have worked so hard with everything that has happened in my life.  Id been sponsored to go to Switzerland and brought home a gold medal for my country. Id climbed the Alps on an old bike with only a couple of gears. I have an illness that will eventually be terminal. I get hit by a big red truck which totals my van and now I dont have a vehicle and to top it off I dont have a drivers license until my nerves and spine heal.  I now have this amazing bike and am told I couldnt race, in the Edmonton.  I was a little ticked off to say the least.

    I just continued to fight to do that grueling rehabilitation which started with about 2 hours of stretching and strengthening exercises at 6:45 a.m. every day followed by breakfast, then an hour in the rehab gym doing upper body workouts, then came recreation therapy, occupational therapy, a short rest and lunch.  The afternoon started with physiotherapy usually with tears because I was mad that something wouldnt work or was elated because something would finally work like a twitch of a muscle or being able to lift my right leg off the mat or little changes by little changes.  After physiotherapy I would head back down to the rehab gym to do lower body strengthening.  Some days I would be able to go to the rehab pool in the main hospital to try to see if I could float or try a swim stroke.  Id have weekly appointments, or more if needed, with the social worker, Carol Lawson. I really needed those sessions.  If I had no more appointments for the day Id go back to my room and crash until supper.  In the evening, I would do more stretching and strengthening exercises. It was grueling, but that made all the difference in my recovery because every single day there was improvement with something.

    Since I was getting better and better with each passing day, I felt that the Edmonton triathlon might just be a reasonable goal again.  Finally I asked the physiatrist if Id cause more damage to my spine and nerves if I raced.  He thought for a bit and then told me that it wouldnt, but would be very painful for a while.  I just laughed and said And!!!! Nerved pain when its healing was worse than labor pains. He thought again and told me to Go for it!  So I made the decision that I will start that race.

    I spent 3 months in the hospital.  I was released on May 9th and had done everything I could to continue the healing process while preparing for the Edmonton triathlon. I could swim as long as I didnt kick. I rode the amazing bike 4 times.  I bungee-corded my canes to the cross bar and each time I rode farther and could finally go up and down hills. The running was the most difficult part of training, but I knew that Id do everything I could to finish that race.

    Ive never been one to give up no matter what life has thrown my way.  After this crash, it sure came close.  With the hope and dream of trying to compete in the Edmonton triathlon I was given the strength and determination to keep fighting everyday to get work hard.

    On June 24th, I began the swim in Hawrelak Lake. I swam using only my arms. My friend Hannah Johnson who had help me rent a van, drove me to Edmonton to act as my aid, stripped off my wet suit and I grabbed my walker. We headed down the long path to the transition.  I got on my bike and did the 10 km loop up and down hills 4 times.  The bike was like riding on air, but I took it easy to save my legs for the run. When biking I saw several of my friends whod left Calgary at 5:30 in the morning to come and watch me race.

    After the 40 km bike, I headed out on the run course with my walker. The run consisted of three 3.3 km loops.  The first was not too bad, but very slow.  Many friends and spectators and other competitors were on the course encouraging me during the race to keep going. My legs just kept collapsing and the pain was getting worse and worse.  I past the grand stand each loop and the cheering from spectators and my friends fired me up to push on. Just after I started the third and final loop my mind and heart wanted to finish, but I didnt know if my back and legs would get there.  .

    Quitting couldnt be an option! Here my friend Hannah had taken time out of her life to spend 3 days with me driving and helping me, my friends had come from Calgary to watch, many friends, including Chuck and Lara Amerongen were there competing and then some came to the sides cheering me on. Richard Zyp from Global National had spent the whole morning shooting for an upcoming television segment Every Day Hero so I didnt want to quit!

    When I got to the final water station, I knew Id make it.  I pushed so hard on my walker with my upper body so my legs would barely touch the ground just enough to keep propelling forward so I could ran past the grand stands and cross that finish line. Yes, I actually finished!!!!! 

    All of my extra funds are being spent on rehabilitation so I thought Hamburg would be out of the question. I received a call from Peter Lawson the other AWAD from Calgary.  Last year Id convinced Peter to try the triathlons. Now wed both qualified to go to Hamburg. Peter found out that I wasnt going. He called and told me that he is paying for my flight and hotel in Hamburg.  I just had to raise enough Euros for food, team uniforms, registration, ground transportation and the little stuff. 

    Just this afternoon I received a call from a friend who had presented my story to the lawyers at the firm she works. They are going to cover those costs. Im in shock that out of so much bad in my life theres come so much good. It could have been so easy just to give up especially after this last crash. Instead, every day, I repeat an old Chinese proverb It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. My desire to get better, to continue competing in triathlons and to live life to the fullest will not wane.

    Now I cant think of a better way to spend September 2nd, my 49th birthday, than to be competing in Hamburg Germany, with my friend and fellow competitor, Peter Lawson at the ITU Triathlon World Championships wearing that Canadian uniform.   

Click here to visit the ITUs Hamburg website

Click here to read other MyStory finalists

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