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