SWEET­LAND’S OLYMPIC CHAL­LENGE “I felt like I had toxic sludge run­ning through my veins.”

DREAM­ING OF RIO

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY KEVIN MACKIN­NON

The only log­i­cal thing for Kirsten Sweet­land to have said was “Are you kid­ding me?” Job had it easy com­pared to what the 27-year-old from Vic­to­ria has gone through over the last five or six years. Sweet­land would have loved to “only” have to deal with get­ting eaten by a whale.

The world ju­nior cham­pion in 2006 went to the Bei­jing Olympics as an al­ter­nate for Canada – she was likely go­ing to be a shoe-in for the team, then suf­fered a heel frac­ture that put her out of the run­ning for the top three. In 2010 she took the sil­ver medal at the U23 worlds, then dealt with two years of stress frac­tures, which al­most put her out of the sport. And, yes, once again she missed head­ing to the Olympics.

Sweet­land got the frac­tures fig­ured out – a heel lift in her shoe dealt with a leg length dis­crep­ancy, and she be­gan to rise through the world ranks. By the time she took her sil­ver medal at the Com­mon­wealth Games in 2014 she had moved to sixth in the world rank­ings. Then things went awry, yet again.

De­spite a bad cold, she de­cided to do one of the fi­nal races of the WTS sea­son in Stock­holm, nar­rowly los­ing out in a sprint fin­ish for se­cond and third. She ar­rived in Ed­mon­ton a week later with what she thought

It was back to the doc­tor, this time to learn she had a bac­te­ria called clostridial species. An­other round of an­tibi­otics. It seemed like train­ing and rac­ing were back on form. She headed down to Rio to try and nail that elu­sive Olympic spot, only to fade in the heat af­ter a great swim and bike. At least, though, she ap­peared to be on track. You know there’s go­ing to be a “but,” right? It was her plan­tar fas­cia. She was off to the Ed­mon­ton World Triathlon Se­ries event, a home­town race where a top-eight plac­ing would get her an Olympic spot. Race morn­ing dawned – 6 C and rainy. Per­fect weather to race on a twitchy plan­tar fas­cia. With 600 m to go she was in sixth, with two Aus­tralian’s bear­ing down on her.

“I started to sprint and all of a sud­den it felt like I had stepped on a knife,” she says. “I hob­bled to the line in 10th place both numb and in ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain.”

Two weeks later was the ITU Grand Fi­nal in Chicago, a race coaches and friends had pulled all kinds of strings to get her into. She felt in­debted to try, only to be forced to pull out af­ter one loop of the bike. Her foot was bad, but even more de­press­ing was the fact that her old “toxic-sludge” symp­toms had re­turned. This time things were even worse. It got to the point where she could only stay awake for a few hours at a time and had a split­ting headache 24 hours a day. Tests showed she had a biotoxic ill­ness from mould and blue/green al­gae, likely picked up dur­ing one of her race swims, and a Rick­ettsia in­fec­tion, that can ac­tu­ally prove fa­tal if not treated. I know. Are you kid­ding me? Af­ter five months off, though, Kirsten Sweet­land is back train­ing. She’s work­ing with Cana­dian coach Joel Fil­liol and is de­ter­mined to get that Olympic berth that has eluded her for so many years. The or­deal ap­pears to be over.

“I am still gun­ning for the Cana­dian Olympic team and know I can be at my best in Au­gust as long as I’m healthy from now on,” she says.

We sure hope she stays healthy, too. Our triath­lete of the year in 2014 de­serves at least one break.

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