In 2013 Camilla Pedersen was put into an induced coma after a bike accident that could have marked the end of a promising career. Despite some incredible challenges, the Dane keeps winning and is gearing up for another Kona appearance.
May 1, 2019 | PERSONALITY|
On September 3, 2013, while preparing for her first go at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, Camilla Pedersen suffered a terrible bike crash. It all happened during a ride in her hometown of Esbjerg, Denmark and describing the accident as “terrible” really doesn’t do the extent of her injuries justice. The skull fractures were bad enough, but thanks to all the bleeding in her brain the doctors put her in an induced coma for 19 days. It was six weeks before she was allowed to go home. And that was only for a weekend, and she had to be supervised.
Pedersen had been getting ready for her first trip to Kona on that fateful September day. More than a few in the triathlon community were looking forward to her first time racing in on the Big Island. Pedersen had literally burst onto the triathlon scene a few years before. A swimmer in her youth, Pedersen had competed on Denmark’s national ice-hockey team. She had never done a triathlon before Danish ITU legend Rasmus Henning reached out to her when he was trying to get a youth team started in 2009. Pedersen was 26 at that point, so she didn’t exactly fit into the “youth” category, but Henning had heard she had potential. Describing whatever Pedersen has as “potential” doesn’t do her amazing talent justice, either.
Within a year she was representing Denmark on the national team and, by 2011, she was the European long-distance champion. A year later she took second at the ITU Triathlon Long Distance World Championships and won her first Ironman race in Copenhagen.
The results kept getting better. In 2013 she took the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, becoming the first Danish woman to go under nine hours with her 8:56:01 finish.
Then came the accident. The six months before she could train. When she did finally get back to racing, she just kept winning. If you look at her results from 2014 – not even a year after the terrible crash – you’d think she’d spent the fall and winter at a high-altitude training camp, not in a hospital bed fighting for her life. She won her first race back, Challenge Fuerteventura. She won Ironman 70.3 Barcelona. She won Ironman 70.3 Pescara. She won the Danish sprint championship. She won Ironman 70.3 Aarhus. She won the ITU Long Distance World Championship, finished second at Ironman Barcelona and finally ran out of gas to “only” finish ninth at Challenge Bahrain. A year later she was still winning and finally got that trip to Kona, where she finished eighth. A year after that she was 11th on the Big Island. In 2017 she took the European Championship at Challenge Denmark in Herning.
All this winning would lead you to believe that Pedersen had completely recovered from that terrible accident. Nothing could be further from the truth. I reached out to Pedersen about this story the day after she had dominated the day at the Cannes International Triathlon. Could I send her five questions via email for a story, I asked. She messaged me later that day. Could we do an interview via Facebook? If she had to answer questions on a computer, it could take her a week.
Turns out Pedersen’s amazing results after her crash are hardly a sign that she’s fully recovered.
“I have some brain injuries after my accident,” she says. “I had some bleeding in the speaking and memory center. Sometimes I have a hard time finding Danish words – I’m better at English.”
Added to the brain issues are numerous other issues, including osteoporosis and heart disease. She can’t take antibiotics, either. When she tries to write on the computer, her friends sometimes find her just staring at the screen.
That amazing return to racing? For the first year of her comeback she couldn’t do a swim workout with anyone – she had to have a lane to herself and be in a pool that didn’t have very many people. When there are too many “impressions” she feels “pressure in her head and dizziness.” Traveling to races? It’s a nightmare working her way through airports.
For the last few years she’s been going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out why she has stomach issues while she’s racing, which is also believed to be a result of the accident. One of her main sponsors, Red Bull, has been a huge help with the costs of all this medical exploration. The latest strategy has Pedersen stop eating the day before a race and, on race day, she limits her intake to 1.5 liters of fluid.
Even with that severely limited nutrition program, Pedersen was able to finish second at Ironman Wales last fall, nailing a spot for Kona after winner Lucy Gossage turned her spot down.
A nutritionist herself, Pedersen has managed to master the process of racing so undernourished.
“My fat burning process is really good,” she says. “When I hit that wall, my body doesn’t get hit the same way as other people.”
You think? Most of us wouldn’t make it through the swim of a full-distance race if we hadn’t eaten breakfast, let alone skipped all our meals for the entire day before.
Anyone else wondering why anyone would keep enduring all this just to be a triathlete?
“I’m a really stubborn girl – when I get challenges, I want to solve them,” she says. “I know anything is possible. You still need the passion. I want to show the world that I am better than some of the results I’ve shown over the last few years. That keeps me motivated. I need to show myself. I want a good experience in Hawaii.”
A little over a year ago Pedersen started working with Brett Sutton, who appears to have relished the challenge of figuring out the various health issues Pedersen is dealing with. The partnership seems to be working. This weekend Pedersen will compete in Pontevedra, Spain at the ITU Long Distance World Championships, looking for another title and to keep her 2019 winning streak going after her impressive race in Cannes.
And later this year we’ll see Pedersen back in Kona once again, looking to fulfill all that potential that almost got lost in 2013.