This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of USA Triathlon Magazine.
The low point for Sarah True came last summer. A year removed from being forced to bow out early in the race at the 2016 Rio Games, True fell into a dark, deep, depressive state.
True is no stranger to depression — the two-time Olympic triathlete had been battling the disease since she was a teenager. But this was a hole more cavernous, more dark and more hopeless than she had ever fallen into.
She felt she was a failure. As an athlete. And as a wife, convinced she failed her husband Ben True, who missed qualification for the 2016 Olympic team. Triathlon wasn’t fun anymore. Life outside sport had no joy. Her training suffered. She couldn’t sleep. Suicidal thoughts ran through her mind.
“Maybe I’ll just swerve into oncoming traffic,” she thought during training rides near her home in Hanover, New Hampshire. One head-on collision with a truck could just end it all.
“Everything was a struggle. I was in a really, really dark place and I felt like it just wasn’t going to get better,” said True, 36.
You can’t “out tough” depression
A professional athlete, an Olympian, a competitor in IRONMAN, one of the most physically and mentally grueling endurance tests humans have created, and here is True contemplating her worth in this world.
But depression knows no boundaries.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year, an estimated 16.2 million adults in the U.S. experience a major depressive episode. And an estimated 40 million adults live with anxiety disorders.
The incidence of those conditions, often linked, in the endurance sports population is probably similar, as a 2017 review of research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found no difference in depressive symptoms between what the researchers called “high-performance athletes” and nonathletes. Age-groupers or Olympic-caliber, all levels of athletes are affected. Michael Phelps, who has won more Olympic medals than anyone on this planet, has publicly spoken about his depression and thoughts of suicide.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon has increased its investment in anti-doping efforts for age-group athletes as part of an initiative launched earlier this year with support from the USA Triathlon Board of Directors. The USA Triathlon Compete Clean campaign, implemented in collaboration with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), focuses on education, awareness and accountability for amateur triathletes competing in USA Triathlon sanctioned events.
As part of the program, USA Triathlon has expanded its testing at age-group races across the country, including but not limited to national championships and ITU World Championship qualifiers in several multisport disciplines.
“I am really thrilled with the progress we’ve made over the past year in expanding our anti-doping programs to an entirely new level for age-group athletes,” said Chuck Graziano, USA Triathlon Board Member, Certified Coach and head of USA Triathlon’s Anti-Doping Steering Committee. “We are not only testing and deterring the intentional use of performance-enhancing substances, but also providing education and resources to our athletes on the ill effects of doping and what constitutes doping. Many athletes may not be aware that a prescription they’re taking might be banned — unless an exemption is granted — or that a supplement they’re taking might contain a banned substance. This important new program helps to protect the health of our athletes and ensure a level playing field.”
USA Triathlon supported the formation of an Anti-Doping Task Force to evaluate the organization’s clean sport programs and provide recommendations for future direction. The eight members included Graziano, who served as the Task Force Chair; Chris Bowerbank, USA Triathlon former Level II Race Director and Regional Chair; Matthew Fedoruk, Chief Science Officer at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency; Andrew Getzin, USA Triathlon Head Team Physician; Courtney Kulick, USA Triathlon National Team Program Manager; Kate Mittelstadt, Director of the IRONMAN Anti-Doping Program; Steve Sutherland, Chair of the USA Triathlon Age Group Committee; and Jon Whiteman, USA Cycling Risk Protection Manager.
Based on the recommendations of the Task Force, the Board of Directors approved $100,000 in funding for USA Triathlon to implement significant new programming in 2018.
The Steering Committee, which is overseeing the timeline and implementation of that programming, retains many members of the initial Task Force — including Bowerbank, Fedoruk, Graziano, Kulick, Mittelstadt and Whiteman. Leslie Buchanan, Director of Anti-Doping at the International Triathlon Union, has also joined the effort.
“USA Triathlon is proud to have the support of the Board of Directors, as well as a diverse Steering Committee, in our efforts to protect clean athletes and prevent issues of doping in multisport,” said Rocky Harris, USA Triathlon CEO. “We look forward to driving awareness among our age-group community, while at the same time elevating the organization’s clean sport outreach as a whole.”
“We are very supportive of USA Triathlon’s efforts to promote clean sport across all levels of competition,” said Travis Tygart, USADA CEO. “In addition to its regular USADA-run anti-doping program, it is investing in anti-doping education for both elite and amateur triathletes. This not only helps ensure that athletes, coaches and others are prepared to compete clean, but also helps create a culture of clean sport.”
USA Triathlon has implemented the following as part of the Compete Clean campaign:
Hiring of Full-Time Staff Member Dedicated to SafeSport and Anti-Doping Initiatives: Shelbi Meyer was hired in June and serves as a direct liaison to USADA, working closely with USADA’s education and testing departments to implement best practices and coordinate testing at USA Triathlon-sanctioned events.
Education and Awareness Resources: USA Triathlon has communicated with its members on anti-doping topics throughout the year via e-newsletter, the quarterly USA Triathlon Magazine, social media and a promotional video featuring IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion Andy Potts and 2016 Paralympic gold medalist Allysa Seely. USA Triathlon is also sharing printed educational materials and video content to address age-group athletes’ most common anti-doping questions and concerns, such as checking medications, obtaining a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) and making smart choices around supplements. Athletes at the elite and age-group levels have been involved in the campaign as ambassadors, wearing “Compete Clean” shirts at events around the world including the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Gold Coast, Australia, and the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
USADA Education Staff at National Events: Representatives from USADA’s education department were onsite at the 2018 USA Triathlon Sprint and Olympic-Distance Age Group National Championships in Cleveland; the Art & Science of Triathlon International Coaching Symposium in Tempe, Arizona; and the USA Triathlon Multisport National Championships in Miami. At these events, USADA staff presented informational sessions to coaches and athletes, shared educational resources and answered questions at an expo booth. USA Triathlon will continue to coordinate with USADA for education and awareness at competitions and industry events through the 2019 season and beyond.
Increased Testing for Age-Group Athletes: Age-group athletes are now tested with more frequency and in higher numbers at collegiate and national championship events, especially those that qualify top finishers for the ITU Age Group World Championships. If an athlete has reason to believe a competitor is using performance-enhancing substances, he or she can submit a tip to USADA’s Play Clean Tip Center at usada.org/playclean with an option to remain anonymous.
Industry Collaboration: The organization continues to work closely with USADA, other Olympic sport National Governing Bodies, IRONMAN and additional triathlon industry partners to share resources, best practices and experiences in promoting clean sport.
Beyond its outreach to age-group athletes, USA Triathlon is also offering detailed educational opportunities to coaches, race directors, USA Triathlon staff, medical personnel and support staff.
For more information about USA Triathlon’s clean sport efforts, and for a list of USA Triathlon members currently serving sanctions for anti-doping violations, visit usatriathlon.org/antidoping.
Additional anti-doping resources are available at usada.org. For educational content geared toward youth athletes, visit truesport.org.
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).
The anti-inflammatory is extracted from the marijuana plant. Is this bud for you?
Andrew Talansky is almost always sore. The 29-year-old spent seven years as a professional cyclist racing for Slipstream Sports. He recently switched to triathlon and now spends hours training both on and off the bike. “I’m using muscles I haven’t used in years,” Talansky says. “My body is constantly inflamed.” Many athletes in his situation rely on common pain relief like ibuprofen, but when Talansky strained a hip flexor last fall, he reached for a bottle of cannabidiol (CBD), an extract from the cannabis plant, instead.
“I took it for a couple of weeks, and there was a noticeable difference immediately,” Talansky says. “And it wasn’t just that my hip was feeling better. I was less anxious, and I was sleeping better.”
Marijuana has long been considered an alternative pain medication, with THC, the principle psychoactive compound in the plant, getting most of the attention. CBD is another active component and could offer some of the same medical benefits (anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, analgesic), but without the side effect of getting high. CBD interacts with serotonin and vanilloid receptors in the brain, which affect mood and the perception of pain. It also has antioxidant properties. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of banned substances in January, which prompted many professional athletes, including ultrarunner Avery Collins and mountain biker Teal Stetson-Lee, to eschew ibuprofen for CBD. Some believe it’s a safer alternative to drugstore pain relievers and anti-inflammatories.
This film follows 6 triathletes from 4 countries (U.S., China, Germany, and Australia) and tells their stories of how they train and prepare for the world’s largest long distance triathlon race – the legendary CHALLENGE ROTH in Germany. The history of the early days of Ironman triathlon is also told by some of the Ironman legends.
Best way to experience spectating an Ironman? Volunteer!!
Did you know it takes about 2500 volunteers to make this race happen. Anywhere from body markers, swim safety to aid stations on the bike and run as well as finish catchers. It can’t be done without the volunteers!
From Race Director, Tim Brosious . . . There are several key positions left or needing some additional coverage. Aid stations on both the bike and the run are our highest priority and are really looking to optimize our volunteer coverage. EVERY athlete hits one of these stations at one point in their day (or two, three or four times). From special needs bag drop volunteers at 3:45am to bike check out volunteers at midnight, there is certainly something for everyone!
All available positions are found online HERE or you can register at the expo! The expo is a great place for an athlete’s friends and family to sign up and ensure they’ll see their favorite athlete on course!
The complete event schedule for the week can be found here
A VALIANT “IRONMAN” HITS THE ROAD TO RECOVERY FORMER TRIATHLON WORLD CHAMPION, TIM DON, EMBARKS ON A JOURNEY OF FEARLESS OPTIMISM IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY
Documentary on the tragic and heroic story of “The Man with the Halo” to premiere at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, CO for the first time in the U.S. on June 7th, 2018.
BOULDER, COLORADO – The legendary three-time Olympian, former triathlon World Champion and Ironman World Record holder, Tim Don, can only be described as the embodiment of pure fortitude, strength and willpower, after surviving a near-fatal road accident that was feared to bring a sudden end to his esteemed career just days before heading to the Ironman World Championships in October last year.
For the first time since his catastrophic setback, the Swiss sportswear company, On, together with Emmy award-winning director, Andrew Hinton, are revealing Tim’s remarkable story in a compelling short form documentary that chronicles his courageous comeback journey along the road to recovery. The highly anticipated and inspirational film, entitled “The Man with the Halo,” is planned for worldwide release on May 28th at www.ManwiththeHalo.com. This release date also commemorates the 1-year Anniversary of Tim’s world record-breaking performance during the 2017 Ironman South American Championships in Florianopolis, Brazil. The film will premiere for the first time ever in the U.S. in Tim’s current hometown of Boulder, CO at the Boulder Theater on June 7 th, 2018.
In the beginning of 2018, following an excruciating three-month period of mental and physical recovery resulting from a severely broken neck, doctors ordered the removal of Tim’s medical halo – the circular metallic support structure fixed directly into his skull. This marked the start of an intense chapter of rehabilitation, fueled by a fierce determination to rebuild himself as the world’s preeminent Ironman. Tim set his sights on his first comeback race – competing at this year’s Boston Marathon in April. Almost six months to the day after the accident, Tim remarkably finished in 2 hours and 49 minutes, just five minutes more than the marathon leg of his record-setting race at the 2017 Ironman South American Championships in Brazil.
“At On, we take pride in sponsoring not just athletes, but their human spirit,” says Olivier Bernhard, cofounder of the Swiss sportswear company. “Tim’s unwavering optimism in the face of adversity is a natural extension of our brand values. Once his pursuit of the Ironman World Championship slipped away following the crash in 2017, we wanted to create an alternative platform of recognition for Tim.
We put together a world-class production team to chronicle his recovery, and reached out to our
network to generate as much groundswell as possible around his comeback race at the Boston
Marathon. Our short form documentary will arguably generate an equally momentous spotlight to suffice any World Championship title. We are delighted to commemorate the 1-year Anniversary of Tim’s world record-breaking performance with a compelling story of undisputable heroism.”
On May 28th, 2017, at the age of 39 years old, Tim Don became the fastest Ironman triathlete of all time after breaking the World Record (previously set by Lionel Sanders) by four minutes, at a time of 7:40:23, during the Ironman South American Championships in Brazil. Tim was in the best shape of his life and continued to train relentlessly for October’s Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, for which he was considered a favorite. While cycling during his final training preparations days before the event, Tim collided with a vehicle and broke a vertebra in his neck, forcing him to make an arduous decision about his future and the best method for long-term recovery. Due to the option of neck surgery giving extreme limitations to his eventual range of motion, Tim decided to wear a halo – the most torturous alternative – but one that would ensure complete recovery, enabling him to return to his 20-year career competing with the best in the world.
“After watching such a well produced documentary with my wife and reliving the ordeal we all went through, it’s evident how much stronger and resilient these gruelling experiences make you,” says Tim.
“Looking back on the last six months has made me realize that my injury was not just a career setback but a serious learning experience about the appreciation one can have towards such a nurturing and dedicated support structure during difficult times. I have been very fortunate and realize how the severity of my injury was shared between everyone around me and how we all carried an equal burden at one point or another. It was awesome to be back in the race environment at Boston, pinning the number on and being in the start corral with everyone. It’s what I worked so hard for over the last six months.”
Tim suffered for nearly four agonizing months at his home in Boulder, Colorado – not being able to shave, shower or dress himself. He became entirely dependent on his wife Kelly, who would often have to clean around the metal of the halo to prevent infection and reduce the swelling where the pins were screwed into his forehead. Tim was on a heavy dose of prescription painkillers that would often add to the problem with frequent vomiting. For three weeks he was upright in a chair in a corner of his living room, unable to sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time. The entire right side of his body became black from bruising and swelling with his ankles becoming swollen despite his compression socks.
As Tim slowly came off the painkillers, he was determined to move beyond the confines of his metal halo and fight for a competitive comeback. He called upon his physiotherapist, John Dennis, who had worked with Tim for over a decade during his competitive career. John was among the first to fly out from the UK to Colorado to supervise the rehabilitation program Tim was eager to start while still wearing the halo. With his upper body strength restricted by the device, John worked with Tim to regain mobility, strength and stability in his lower body. As the exercises became more intense, the screws in Tim’s halo would often come loose and have to be tightened. Eventually the halo was replaced with a large collar allowing for more variation during the workouts over time. Tim was focused and positive throughout the recovery process, which was helped by having goals such as the Boston Marathon and ultimately, a return to the World Championships in Kona.
On April 16th, six months after he was almost crippled for life, Tim took to the 2018 Boston Marathon. Despite the driving rain and temperatures close to freezing, Tim finished in under 2 hours and 50 minutes. A week before the marathon in April, Tim was up to 20 hours of training, compared to his typical 30 hours prior to the injury, although the race helped give him closure on a wound that nearly derailed his career indefinitely. The finish line in Boston marks the beginning of Tim’s long road to recovery. He plans to compete at the Ironman Triathlon European Championship in Hamburg on July 29th, before making a grand entrance as a returning frontrunner in October at the 2018 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii,
The new documentary entitled “The Man with the Halo,” chronicling Tim Don’s road to recovery, is produced by On, together with Emmy award-winning director, Andrew Hinton. The worldwide release date on May 28th marks the 1-year Anniversary of Tim Don’s world record-breaking performance during the Ironman South American Championships in Brazil. The documentary will be publicly available to watch on www.ManwiththeHalo.com.
In just 50 minutes you’ll learn techniques for specific skills:
++Get Your Mind Right—planning for a great swim
++Breathe easy—key insights from physiology for comfort in the water
++The Warm up—how to have a great start and finish
++Wee (and not so wee) Besties—what is in that water anyway, and how to regard the marine life
++Feet and Elbows—overcoming getting touched by other swimmers
Don’t just endure the swim—learn to love it.
Presenter Will Murray is our Team’s mental skills coach, a USA Triathlon certified coach, and co-author of The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes.
In my hometown, every Fourth of July begins with a one-mile race on the streets of Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s set up like the Fifth Avenue Mile or the Carlsbad 5000—waves of competitors, grouped by age and gender, compete against each other.
If I enter the Downtown Mile, I can choose the category in which I want to compete. Being “an old,” I can opt for the masters wave or if I’m feeling ambitious, I can go for the open division and risk being whooped by a pack of teenagers. Typically I opt to skip it altogether and volunteer instead.
However, if I decide to compete in the open category, place 10th, but run a faster time than the winner of the masters division, I don’t earn the first-place masters award—it was a different race, with different competitors, which created different racing strategies and dynamics. It was an entirely different competition—one in which I chose not to participate. I go home empty-handed.
Seems fair, doesn’t it?
In the aftermath of the 2018 Boston Marathon—a year in which the treacherous weather conditions played heavily into the racing tactics of top female athletes—three women in the open category and two masters athletes ended up in the final results with faster finishing times than women who received the prize money. The faster women were ineligible for the awards because they didn’t qualify to compete with the elite women’s-only field of 46 athletes, which started at 9:32 a.m. in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Instead, these women began at 10 a.m. in the next wave of 7,500 mixed-gender competitors.
What happened next included predictable outrage and backlash. Just as predictably, much of the controversy was unwarranted and based on misinformation. Some news outlets framed it as an issue of gender inequity. Others didn’t fully understand the rules involved.