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Janelle Morrison’s First Race Back

  • By Bethany Mavis
  • Published May 4, 2012

The pro triathlete will be racing at the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon this weekend as her first race back after surviving a horrific car accident. We caught up with her to discuss the comeback.

If you’re at the Avia Wildflower Triathlon Festival this weekend and you see a camera crew following around a professional female triathlete, that woman is Janelle Morrison. Less than two years after a life-threatening car accident, she’s making her comeback at the Avia Wildflower Triathlon on May 5, and Kelly Brother Productions will be filming her every move as part of a documentary about her comeback.

Morrison had been on the road to success as a professional triathlete. She had several top-10 finishes as a pro, including making the podium at Ironman Canada in 2009.

But that came crashing down when on Nov. 21, 2010, Morrison was part of a gruesome head-on collision on a rural highway while driving to Calgary, Canada. Nearly every major bone in her body was broken, and doctors had to put her in a medically induced coma to allow her broken body to heal. Her injuries included a ruptured diaphragm, punctured lung, a plate and 11 screws in her tibia, a rod in her femur and plate in her arm.

“My decision was made the instant that I awoke from my induced coma in ICU,” Morrison says. “I didn’t even know what had happened, but apparently one of the first things I uttered was, ‘How long is this going to keep me out of training? A week? Two weeks?’  Clearly I had no idea what I was really facing, but that’s not the point. The point is that I already knew that I was going to be back.”

Her determination to battle through her injuries was shown in her remarkably quick recovery. Within three months, she was walking without crutches; at four months she could get up to a jogging speed; she returned to training with her coach Paulo Sousa less than seven months into her recovery.

Her biggest challenge after returning to training was running with the plate and screws in her tibia. “One of the screws was interfering in the way my tibialis posterior tendon was gliding and it caused pain every time I ran. It was very frustrating because I could feel my stride and I wanted to open things up so badly on the run, but I was held back,” she says. “Once I had the surgery to remove the hardware the problem was immediately alleviated and we could start working the run back to form.”

Once she could train again, her training was different than it had been before, even with the same coach. “I began swimming and riding more volume than I ever had. And once I could run without pain again, my run miles have almost been as high as some of my weekly mileage when I was marathon running,” she says. “The training load is huge volume and quality intensity. I am very pleased with the way my body is responding to it. I feel stronger and fitter than I ever have. I am very excited to see how much I can continue to improve.”

She chose Wildflower because “it fit well with the schedule and the course is hard—the harder the better for me,” she says.

Not only will she be returning to racing, but she’ll also be returning as a professional athlete. “Everyone has been very understanding to my reasons for not being able to race last year, and my previous results stand to entitle me to a pro card,” she says. “I can’t wait to make it ‘official.’”

She says she couldn’t have gotten to the start line at Wildflower, though, without the tremendous support of those around her. “No one gets through something like this alone. I was so very fortunate to have a remarkable support team who believed in me the entire time, particularly when there wasn’t much to believe in. … My family and friends, my boyfriend, my therapists, my sponsors who stood by me, even my coach who never gave up on me as long as I didn’t give up on myself,” she says. “And that has made all the difference.”

Her community has also rallied around her—with the towns of Penticton, Calgary, Vernon, her hometown of Fort St. John and individuals have worked on fundraisers to help with her comeback. “I am very grateful,” she says.

Plus, Rob Kelly, the documentary producer and fellow triathlete who took a chance by making the documentary about Morrison’s comeback, gave her extra confidence. “[He] took a massive leap of faith to follow and document my story only two weeks after I got home from the hospital. This meant a lot to me at the time, and still does, as some doctors were telling him it was never going to happen. And fair enough. But he believed.  And I can’t wait to see this pay off for him as well.”

As her first race approaches, her focus is beyond just racing Wildflower. “I have one goal this season,” she says. “To surpass my expectations of myself.”

The documentary about Morrison’s comeback, entitled “A Second Chance,” is set to be released in Canada this summer. To learn more about the film and how you can see it, visit Asecondchancefilm.ca.

FILED UNDER: Features / Race Coverage TAGS:

Bethany Mavis

Bethany Mavis

Bethany Mavis is the associate editor for Triathlete and Inside Triathlon magazines. She received her B.A. in journalism from Point Loma Nazarene University and is a multiple half-marathon finisher.

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