Laurel Wassner's incredible triathlon journey

The first cancer survivor to become a professional triathlete, Laurel Wassner's journey to Ironman champion is both amazing and unique. We caught up with this weekend's Ironman Taiwan champion.

| October 2, 2017 | PERSONALITY

Photo >Don1Don When I interviewed you after Israman in January, you said that race was one of the hardest you’ve ever done. It sounds like Ironman Taiwan was even harder. What made the race in Taiwan so difficult?

Laurel Wassner: Both races are difficult, but couldn't be more different. It was very cold with rugged terrain in Israel. In Taiwan what made the race so difficult was the stifling heat and oppressive humidity. The real feel temperature was 42 C during the marathon.

As hard as it was, you must have had a good day – you won by 40 minutes. Were you surprised at the result and your finish?

I had a very good day. Finally everything came together. I raced the week before in Malaysia and struggled to finish. I was not acclimatized to the heat on the run. I had a great swim and used the bike as a workout and my goal power was spot on. However, I just could not run and gave up a large lead and the victory. That night I started making arrangements to go home early and skip the Ironman. But, after a few days of rest and some advice from former pro Belinda Granger, who knows how to race in Asia, I decided to stick to my plan. I knew I was still fit and had done all the preparation and training for Taiwan, but there were seven very strong women on the start list. Any one of us could have had a great day to take the win. I was confident in my ability, but you just never know how things will go in that type of heat.

Did you have to make any adjustments to your race-day nutrition plan based on the humid and hot conditions?

In the days before the race I took extra electrolytes. On race day, I fueled with Xrcel, which is a time released glucose supplement. I had three large sips of it every 45 minutes and also had two salt tablets. I felt strong for all five hours on the bike and was able to pull away from my competitors over the second half of the ride. I had my fastest Ironman bike split, 5:00.40 - I knew I was capable of that based on my training numbers, but that doesn't mean anything unless you do it in a race!  It took a great deal of mental fortitude and concentration on nailing my fueling to make that happen on such a hot day.

As for the run, I also took two salt tablets and had two Xrcels. I walked at every single aid station and dunked my whole body into the bins of water. Then I'd go back to pace and desperately try to make it to the next aid station to try to cool off. I have never felt so hot.

You’ve picked some of the world’s toughest races to compete at this year. What is it that appeals to you about those type of events?

I tend to do well at the really difficult races (Wildflower, Quassy, Mont Tremblant, NYC Tri, Columbia Tri). I have always been a fighter. From when I was little, the smallest one going up against all the big girls, in swimming, softball, basketball to overcoming cancer as a young adult. That kind of stuff stays with you and comes out when things get challenging.

You were the first cancer survivor to win a pro triathlon back in 2010. How fulfilling is it to get a win at an official Ironman race? You’ve talked about it being important to be able to share your story in order to inspire others. Will this help get that message out?

It's incredibly rewarding to get my first official Ironman title and in doing so making history as the first cancer survivor to win an Ironman. Sometimes I forget about how far I have come and how fortunate I am just to be racing professionally.  But, it all came flooding back to me when I ran down the finishing chute. I thought of all the people who helped me get this far and of all the people I may be inspiring in the future. That means a lot to me.