Professional triathletes Michael and Amanda Lovato celebrated their eight-year wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve 2012. In this special Valentine’s Day edition of Dispatch, they talk about the roots of their relationship that make their hearts beat stronger than ever for one another today. They also discuss Amanda’s recent surgery to her actual heart muscle to correct a condition known as SVT (supraventricular tachychardia). Finally, we put them through the ringer with our version of “The Newlywed Game.” Read on to see how they scored!
When and how did you meet?
AL: In 1999 we were both age groupers on the circuit of doing regionals, nationals and worlds. Even though he lived in Austin and I lived in Baltimore, we would see each other at the races. But I had a boyfriend and I thought that he had a girlfriend. I would always see this woman with him–it happened to be his sister!
ML: I should preface this by telling you that I tried to pick her up at nationals and she shot me down.
AL: We were in Montreal in 1999 at age group worlds and I had just broken up with my boyfriend. This time I saw Michael and I looked at him a little differently than I had in the past, and he made it clear to me that the woman he was hanging out with was his sister. We sort of flirted and chatted and I thought: Wow, this guy’s really cute and really cool. My race was going to be early–8:00 or 9:00 .am.–and his race was at 2:00 p.m. He said he was going to come watch me race and I thought: Yeah right, his race isn’t until 2:00, he’ll be hanging out in the hotel room. But I’ll be damned, I started the run and I saw him cheering for me! It was so nice and so sweet. Immediately he captured my heart by giving me that little bit of attention and time, taking time out of his day right before his race.
ML: I was interested.
AL: At the worlds races everybody used to party really hard, and that year was no exception. We went to a couple of the parties and I guess you could say we “hooked up.” I was sort of thinking: Is this going to go anywhere? I really like him but I’m not sure how he feels. Then he told me he was going to do the Hawaii Ironman in October.
ML: It was my first Ironman. At that point we were both into short course, plus I was injured, so she was like: What?
AL: But I made a deal with him and with myself: if I found a plane ticket for less than $500 to Kona I would come watch. One of my friends gave me a frequent flier ticket and I thought: This is meant to be. But I better figure out if I really like him! So a couple of weeks after worlds and a couple of weeks before Kona I went to Austin to visit him. And I really liked him, so I went to Kona. I was 26 and he was 25 when we met. After Kona we made a commitment to see each other every three weeks, and we did it for two years. I had just bought a house in Baltimore and I had a great job as a personal trainer, and I was afraid to leave that to go to Austin and be Michael’s girlfriend. He didn’t really want to move to the east coast, which I understood with our winters, so we sort of sat in limbo for two years.
ML: The first year was really fun. We went to cool places and it was really romantic, but by the end of that year we were thinking: This sucks. We’ve got to get together and be in the same town. It was harder and harder to be apart. So we set in motion a plan to be together. I went and stayed with her for three weeks in Baltimore and she spent three weeks in Austin to see whether one of us wanted to move, but we were both like: That’s not it. So instead we came to Boulder.
AL: We came to Boulder in August of 2001 and we thought it was heaven on earth. There’s no place better in the world than summertime in Boulder. And at the time Michael was coached by Dave Scott and he wanted to go pro, so it made sense. And it was hard. It was really hard. We couldn’t afford anything. 9/11 had just happened and we couldn’t find jobs. I sold my house in Baltimore and we lived off that, we lived off credit cards and we lived in a dump. All we had was each other. And thank God it worked out. I knew that I loved Michael, but I definitely questioned what I had done. I missed my friends, I missed the security of my job, I missed my family and I missed my beautiful home. I had found true love, but I couldn’t find a job. It was either going to make us or break us, and it made us.
ML: We decided it was too risky for either one of us to give up everything and then possibly resent the other one for it. So we both gave up everything. It made it harder for us initially, but it put us both on equal footing, starting over together, and it made us stronger. We had each other. That first year was a struggle but we made it work.
Amanda, after years of struggling with heart episodes during races–and initially attributing them to nutrition–you learned that you were actually experiencing SVT and made the decision to have corrective surgery on Nov. 5, 2012. Tell me about that experience and how it affected your relationship?
AL: My doctors encouraged me to have this surgery in 2009, but I was too afraid. I didn’t want to believe it in 2009, and then in 2012 it was just kind of staring me in the face. It wasn’t life-threatening for me, but it was affecting my triathlon career. The first time I felt it, in 2002, I might have had it once a year. It wasn’t until 2007 that I started seeing it more frequently in races. And then 2009 and 2010 were horrible. I thought I had it under control in 2011, and then in 2012 I definitely did not. It was happening in training, it was happening in races–it was happening all the time. My girlfriend who is a cardiac nurse said, “If you think it’s bad now, it’s going to be worse in 10 or 15 years.” I didn’t want to have a pacemaker when I’m 60. So this decision was a life-changer for me–not just for triathlon. Every decision that I make isn’t just about me, it’s about Michael, too, and our life together. It affects him. Michael and I have always been very intertwined–always–and he was there supporting me the whole way.
ML: Going through that, you just worry so much. I mean here’s this procedure they say is really easy, 95 percent effective and nothing really ever goes wrong–but it’s still elective surgery. It was a little bit nerve-wracking for me to watch and to worry about her.
How are you feeling now? I know you talked about running the New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on Feb. 24. Are you on track for that race?
AL: Yes. Right after surgery I went through a little period of depression, so I told myself I needed a goal.
ML: Her doctor actually said that after five or six days she could start exercising, but Amanda felt that after something as serious as a heart procedure she wanted to take four weeks and do almost nothing. It’s a little more extreme in terms of resting than what a lot of pro athletes we spend time with might do, but we’ve also been coaching for over a decade and we need to listen to the advice we would give our own athletes. You have to listen to your body. But so that she didn’t take a month off and all of a sudden realize it had turned into three months off, she signed up for the half marathon to give herself a carrot to get active again.
AL: I took two weeks completely off, and then two weeks where I would do walk/runs. Then I saw my doctor and he said, “It’s time. You have to test yourself and we have to see if we got everything.” But I didn’t realize how badly I would feel and how badly I was out of shape! I mean with the time before the surgery, and then recovering after and then I got the flu, it was really more like 12 weeks before I started seriously training again. So now I’m at week six of consistent training, and it’s hard. I haven’t even run 13 miles yet. My long run is around 12, and it’s slow. And I kind of question that whole muscle memory thing, because I certainly don’t feel like it’s there! But I’m just taking it slow. I have this goal of the half marathon, and then I probably won’t race a half Ironman until June.
Michael, what are your key races for 2013?
ML: I love to race Latin American races. I love hot races and I love going to the Caribbean. So Ironman 70.3 San Juan will be my first race, and I’ve toyed with the idea of doing Oceanside two weeks later, mostly just to benefit from the fitness from San Juan. After that I’ll do Ironman 70.3 St. Croix–another hot race in the Caribbean–and there’s a chance I’ll do Ironman Texas. Then Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs in June, and that’s the first half of the season. We also have a couple of cool training camps that we’re coaching–first in Austin in March, then in Solvang in April and then a new one we’re really excited about in Costa Rica in June.
AL: It gives me something to focus on, since I’m not training as hard or as much as I’m used to, and I don’t feel ready to race a triathlon yet. So the camps are great, I also coach five people and I’m working in real estate again. I have my license and I’ve worked with Goodacre & Company in Boulder for six years. My business partner said that he needed me to come back and I said, “OK!” It helps focus a different energy, instead of just on myself, and on something besides triathlon.
In terms of being a triathlon couple, what do you find are the greatest benefits?
AL: We motivate each other. I would have quit triathlon when I first started struggling with it back in 2007, but Michael always encouraged me and told me to keep going, that it would eventually turn around, and it did. I’ve had a lot of high highs and I’ve had some really low lows, but Michael’s kept me going through those lows.
ML: With triathlon, like with a lot of jobs, you have to drag yourself away from your loved one and go away. But I think it’s a lot easier for us because we understand and appreciate what one another’s going through. That’s always been a really nice thing to share.
What are the greatest challenges?
AL: When we both race, Michael gets really nervous about me. He knew that I was having heart problems in races, but not a lot of other people knew. He would know when I was in the middle of an SVT during a race, and it would affect him. It got to the point where I didn’t even try to start an Ironman that he was racing because it would affect him too much.
ML: You know how much emotions play into the success of a triathlon–or in a lot of cases the downfall. Muskoka [Michael and Amanda were both victorious at Ironman 70.3 Muskoka 2011] is a great example. When I saw that she was about to take the lead, and I was in the lead, we were just rock solid. We both felt like no one could beat us. It fueled us upward. Whereas in Puerto Rico last year [Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico], I was doing well but I saw her and I knew she wasn’t where she should be and that she was in trouble. I wanted to give her positive energy and try and help sort things out, but it was such a short exchange, passing on the out and back.
You probably wanted to stop!
AL: He’s actually done that before. And I’ve just said, “No, keep going. I can deal with this.”
ML: Ultimately I figured that out, but I think that’s the biggest drawback, just the concern for one another out there. It takes away that little ability to completely focus on yourself.
What are your plans for this Valentine’s Day?
AL: I actually have a commission update course for real estate that I have to take in the afternoon! After that I don’t know. The last few years we haven’t been together on Valentine’s Day, so this will be really nice.
ML: It’s funny because over the years we’ve always had birthdays together, we’ve always had Christmas and Thanksgiving together, but we’ve probably only had half of our Valentine’s Days together.
AL: I feel like every day is Valentine’s Day for us. It really is!
ML: It is. It’s a little bit like the way we believe in everything in moderation all the time. A lot of people go to extremes. They may cut a bunch of stuff out of their diet, and then they binge at the end of the season. We don’t do that. We don’t really binge out on Valentine’s Day–we just kind of indulge all year long! It’s the same with our training. I think that’s why we’ve been relatively injury free and had long careers. We don’t go to extremes, we just train hard and perform well and we don’t get burnt out. But that being said, I’m kind of romantic and I always like to surprise her with something. But if I tell you now, she’ll know!
AL: Last year I was at a training camp with my good friend Kim Loeffler. Michael sent me this really nice necklace with two hearts on it, but he didn’t send Kim anything, whereas her husband sent chocolate covered strawberries for both of us!
ML: Yes, Kim’s husband sent really nice presents for both, and I sent something just to Amanda. And Twitter was all about them basking in their gifts! But this year we’ll probably go out for dinner. We like to grab another couple and go do something fun. That’s what we’re all about–just a little dinner, the experience together.
Now let’s play something a little bit like “The Newlywed Game.” I’ll ask each of you three questions, but first you’ll read the questions that the other person will be asked and write down the answers you expect them to give–confidentially, of course. [Michael and Amanda retreat to separate corners of the coffee shop to record their answers.] Ready? Amanda, who cried first at your wedding, you or Michael, and at what moment?
AL: [Without hesitation] Michael. There were a couple times that he cried. Our wedding didn’t start until 7:30 at night, so we decided to take the photos first at Chautauqua, with all the beautiful sunlight. Because regardless of when it is, you have that moment when you first see each other and you know it’s really happening. So he got teary eyed when he saw me in my wedding dress for the first time.
ML: I wrote that I cried first, but during the ceremony.
AL: That’s true, too.
ML: That’s when I was actually crying–I think I was teary before. And I added a note that I had to use a leopard print tissue that a friend of Amanda’s gave to me before the ceremony!
AL: I started laughing. Like where do you get leopard print tissue?
ML: I needed that–it helped me laugh, too.
I’ll call that round a win. Next question: Amanda, if you could be a contestant on a reality TV show, which one would you choose?
AL: I tried out for Survivor but I didn’t make it. We’ve talked about doing the Amazing Race together. Hmmm…maybe Real Housewives of Boulder? No, I’ll go with Survivor.
ML: Yes, Survivor!
Nicely done, another win. Amanda, when a race goes well for you, what’s the first thing you want to do?
AL: Find Michael.
ML: Um, what’s the second thing? I wrote “Eat French fries!” Usually I’m already right there. But that’s true, you do look for me, but you do that on bad days, too.
I may have to dock you for the French fries answer. Now I’ll put Michael on the spot. When and where was your first kiss with Amanda?
ML: Well, that would be right before closing time at the bar in Montreal, after the dance party after worlds.
Another win! Michael, when you do the grocery shopping, what are three things you’re sure to come home with?
ML: The first one is almond butter.
ML: Then cereal.
ML: And coffee.
AL: Oh, I didn’t get the coffee. I should have put that, though.
AL: No, I crossed off meat. I actually put coconut milk.
ML: Yes, that’s another one.
OK, I’ll give you two-thirds correct for that one. Last question: Michael, in which race distance do you feel most confident in your ability to do well?
Perfect! And that’s a pretty good overall score–you’re obviously meant to be together. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Interested in learning more about the Lovatos’ training camps? Click on the links for Costa Rica, Solvang and Austin. You can follow Michael and Amanda’s ongoing triathlon love story on Twitter @michaellovato and @amandalovato.