Triathlon: The Perfect Vehicle for my Health Recovery Journey

By Carole Staveley

If you think perfect health is required to participate in triathlons or any other sport for which you have a passion, think again!  Here’s an example of how committing to the right sport can motivate you to search for solutions to your health challenges.  Then step by step, you might find yourself accomplishing things beyond your wildest dreams.

I loved tennis and running, but the injuries became too frequent.  My fragile body, riddled with stiffness, muscle “knots,” chronic pain and frequent soft tissue injuries couldn’t handle the pounding anymore. I was beginning to give up on being as active as I wanted to be.

As I began working on solving my chronic pain issues and rehabilitating my body through nutritional changes, strength training, yoga, chiropractics and other approaches, my friend suggested I join her in a swimming class.  I hesitantly agreed, convincing myself it was a low impact sport that could be sustainable, despite my history of chronic injuries.  The only problem: I was a terrible swimmer!  One lap of the 25 meter pool and I was totally out of breath.  I felt completely out of my league.  But I had found a new challenge.  There was nowhere to go but up with this swimming thing!

I persevered with the swimming, joining a Masters Swim program (Masters Swim Ontario) that included several triathletes in the membership.  This made me think: “maybe bike riding would be OK on my body.”  So I began riding the stationary bike at the gym and bought a hybrid bike with the thought of maybe entering a Sprint triathlon event in the near future.  The only issue was that triathlons involved running, and running caused me injuries.  However, as my health improved with the strength program designed by my exercise physiologist, a nutrition plan devised by a PhD nutritionist, and treatments from a sports chiropractor, I began to believe that one day my body might be able to handle running some short distances.  So I signed up for my first Sprint triathlon at the age of 43, after 13 years of struggling with chronic myofascial pain syndrome.

My race training generally involved swimming (until I pulled my lat muscle 2 months before the race), cycling (the only thing I could do regularly up until race day) and the elliptical trainer (as I had also pulled a calf muscle during a training run 6 weeks prior to the race).  I seriously wondered if I should be showing up at all to this race.  Since I had nothing to lose, and it might be the only one I ever signed up for, I decided to go for it.  It was one of the scariest days of my life: not only was I an undertrained, marginal swimmer, but this was to be my first open water swim!  I kept telling myself: “If you can make it out of the water within the cut-off time, you can finish this thing.”  I could always walk the run course if necessary.

What transpired on that day was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  Not only did I complete the swim despite considering quitting several times, but I completed the whole race and met my objectives for the day: (1) Finish; (2) Don’t get injured; (3) Don’t be last across the finish line.  It’s difficult to explain the sense of personal power I experienced as I crossed that finish line, and over the days and weeks that followed.

This personal victory gave me the momentum to work even harder at conquering this chronic pain condition so that I could continue participating in this great sport that was giving me the opportunity to live the active, athletic life I craved.  My health condition continued to improve as I was incredibly motivated to implement every possible solution I could find to better manage my condition.

I entered many triathlons over the next few years.  Many times, my pre-race training involved almost no running.  However, I was able to hold my own during the run on race day because of the hard work I was putting into strength and bike training.  Once hooked on triathlon, I began aiming for longer distances, until the day came when I believed I might be able to complete a full distance triathlon.  On August 18, 2013, I completed the Subaru Ironman race in Mont Tremblant, Quebec – something I couldn’t even dream of accomplishing when I was young and healthy.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in this process is that our most daunting challenges represent our biggest opportunities for personal satisfaction.  Challenge yourself by setting a goal you’re not sure you can achieve, and you might surprise yourself, as long as the goal is aligned with a powerful emotional drive.

My big race for 2014 is Multisport Canada’s Niagara Falls Barrelman triathlon: a 1.9 KM swim, 90 KM bike and 21.1 KM run.  This will be my longest distance race since Mont Tremblant last August.  I might not win any medals, but showing up with the belief that I can actually complete the race is a big enough win for me!  I hope to see you in Niagara Falls on September 21st.

To learn more about Carole’s story, her new book, and to read her motivating and informative blog, go to