Interview with Pro Triathlete Meredith Kessler
Despite being one of the best triathletes in the world and simply a wonderful person, Meredith Kessler has not had the best career in terms of luck. She's had to navigate through several recoveries from injury, the latest being the result of a head-on bike collision in Eagleman two months ago which left her in the hospital and with a long road of PT to return to training, let alone racing.
Although her comeback story is a triumph in itself (only six weeks after her injury she entered - and won - Ironman Vineman 70.3, then followed it up with another win in Lake Stevens last weekend), we sat down and asked Meredith a few questions about her recovery, and wanted to pass along some things she's learned on how to get back on your feet quickly.
PowerTap: First, Meredith, congratulations on both Ironman 70.3 Vineman and 70.3 Lake Stevens, and more importantly, on your recovery and return to racing - it's great to have you back! We have a lot of Age Groupers who we think would be keen to learn about your recovery - as many deal with injuries of varying degrees themselves - and want to know how did you mentally approach the comeback from your injury?
Meredith: Unfortunately or fortunately, we have been down this road before. As with anything when you are a triathlete, it is never easy, especially coming back from a crash. It does take discipline, focus and setting goals while at the same time being smart about your recovery.
The first thing I had to do was get a diagnosis as to what my injuries were stemming from the crash. I have a wonderful physical therapist who was able to bring me back to health from my crash last August. He did notice my back, neck and ribs had endured some trauma so he employed extensive 'cupping' techniques which moved blood in the region to aid in healing. Diagnosing the brain is a much tougher task...
I met with top neurologists in SF to determine the severity of the impact on my brain and they did state it was severe head trauma, a level above a concussion. I continuously performed impact tests to determine if I was improving and rested quite a bit, which is imperative for recovery from head injury. Although the first week was quite foggy, I thankfully made rapid cognizant improvements to the point where I was 'back to normal' and working out.
Mentally, it was probably a good thing I do not remember anything from the crash since I was blindsided. I do a lot of my cycling training indoors so I was able to get back on the horse without the initial fear of being hit. My bike legs were a little timid at the beginning of the Vineman race but it all came back to me as the race wore on and it was key to release any fear of crashing. Needless to say, there was a lot of sweat, mental deliberation, and doubts along the way but I knew this going into rehabilitation - there is no sugar coating the hard work and dedication needed to overcome these types of injuries; you have to look at the bright side and say 'It could have been worse.' I really believe that the power of positivity and art of resilience helped to breed positive health - something that I nourish and value so much in sport and in life.
PowerTap: One of the big challenges for Age Groupers is returning to racing - when and how to do it. Did you modify your race goals and expectations for you next race, or were you forced to change the timing of your next event?
Meredith: After Eagleman, we had planned a mid-season break since we had been racing since January, and as it turned out, it was more of a forced break as a result of the crash. In reality, I was really out of it and not being able to train because of my injuries. I eased my way back into swimming and running as my body allowed and was back doing my regular routine (drip-feeding intensity in slowly) after about 2 weeks - I do not take this for granted!
Vineman was always on the schedule but became a more important race after my crash; it was the goal I set for myself to be able to race it at all. The place I finished did not matter; I just wanted to be out there. I worked hard to get to where I was pre Eagleman race, but there was no way of knowing how my body would react to being in a race environment so the victory was beyond rewarding.
The rest probably did me well since the body had taken a beating in the months of May and June with all the racing, my social calendar (so important!), the birth of my amazing nephew and giving the commencement speech at my high school graduation which was so much fun of course! You don't know it in the moment but these things add up and a 'break' was needed to continue to train but also concentrate on rest, nutrition and hydration.
PowerTap: You seem to really have a great ability to stay mentally strong and positive - do you have any tips for Age Groupers?
Meredith: Mental resiliency I feel is something that stems from your childhood and dealing with adversity. I have become comfortable dealing with injuries and overcoming obstacles, as a lot of triathletes have during their lives. Some prosper and others can get swallowed up in their adversity. The one thing that always rings true is that recovery will be filled with a lot of intense lows and baby steps for those brief highs. There is a lot that happened between the crash and racing Vineman and a lot of it was painful, but it was necessary in order to get healthier faster.
You need to always focus on the positive. There is SO much power in positivity and this is something that I have always chosen to embrace. It is easy to get down and focus on what went wrong and not what is going right. Each small improvement should be highlighted rather than concentrating on how you were before the calamity. I have had the 'benefit' of having some major issues the past year and have learned how to recover but I do want to stress, it will be mentally and physically challenging. Always keep in mind what motivated you before the crash which may be friends, family, and your support team. Think about how they will always be by your side through your trials and tribulations and how they will be smiling at the finish line once you have recovered!