Age grouper Kyle Hummel’s path to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship was not built from the seamless block of training you’d expect from someone who won his 30–34-year-old division. Instead, his milestones this year have had less to do with buildup races and podium results and more to do with hospital visits.
Going back to August of 2009, Hummel was hit head-on by an SUV while riding his bike, resulting in five surgeries for a compound fracture to his left tibia and fibula. He spent countless hours in hospitals and physical therapy sessions, and he wasn’t sure if he would ever compete again.
But with the help of two-time XTERRA world champion Lesley Paterson, his coach of four years, he came back—strong. This year he earned the third overall amateur position at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in March, his best result to date, and a ticket to the 70.3 world championship. And then his health took a series of hits.
On April 26, he went to the ER for pneumonia and pleurisy.
On May 20, he got hit by a car (again) and went back to the ER for seven stitches in his left forearm.
On May 30, he went back to the ER again to get two liters of fluid drained from the plural cavity between his left lung and rib.
The worst came on June 19, when he was hospitalized for six days for a collapsed lung. He had surgery to get fluid drained again, and they also had to clean out his rib cage and remove an abscess from his lung and diaphragm that was caused from a bacterial infection.
Doctors told him his race season was over. He told his wife Randi he was done—and meant it. “I was lying in a hospital bed with a tube sticking out of my lung draining fluid into a container,” Hummel recalls. “[I thought] ‘How am I supposed to compete at a high level in just over two months?’ But Randi would not let me give up. I knew it was going to hurt like hell to get into the shape I needed.”
He was able to start training for Mont-Tremblant with eight weeks to go. On top of his 50 hours per week as a claims analyst in San Diego, he logged up to 30 hours of training a week to get ready by September 7. “My record for the earliest workout was on the bike trainer at 2:45 a.m.,” Hummel says. “Even for me that is a bit nuts, but I am going to do whatever it takes —‘When you are not working, someone else out there is, and when you meet, they will beat you.’”
He says this was a common Tuesday and Thursday routine: Wake up at 3 a.m., drive to do run hill repeats from 4–5:30 a.m., then meet Paterson and another training partner to start a ride by 6 a.m., which included three hours of hill repeats and single-leg hill work. He would be back at home to work from 10 a.m. to 7 pm.
“When you go through as many ups and downs I went through this year, it can really put a strain on your mindset of ‘Is this all worth it?’” Hummel says.
He arrived in Mont-Tremblant confident in his training but unsure of how he would stack up against his competition. During the race, he knew he was having one of those golden days every triathlete dreams of, where everything just comes together the way you want it to.
As he neared the final stretch of the run, his hands went to his cheeks and tears started streaming uncontrollably down his face as he realized what he had accomplished. He finished in 4:08 (with a 27:26 swim, fastest bike split of 2:14 and 1:20 run), and won his age group and placed 10th overall for male amateurs.
“As soon as I crossed the finish line, my hands went to my knees, not from being tired, but from every emotion running through me,” Hummel says. “I tossed my arms up and open as wide as they could go and looked into the sky thanking God for blessing me with this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I knelt down to the ground, kissed it a couple times—what do I care I had just won Worlds—and then the excitement/competitive side of me took over and I started slapping the ground with one hand as hard as I could in just sheer joy. I stood and let out a scream like I never let out before, a scream like, ‘Yes, this was all worth it.’ Because I really do believe that success post-adversity makes our accomplishments that much sweeter.”
Hummel is a part of Paterson’s Braveheart Elite Racing Team, which is part racing and part mentorship program to first-time triathletes who come from challenging backgrounds.
“Kyle has so much energy and so much drive it’s beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before as a coach,” Paterson says. “Since we started working together, he’s become one of my best friends and training partners because his work ethic is second to none, and he keeps rising above the myriad of challenges that have faced him along the way.”
In a few weeks, Hummel will race the Soma Triathlon in Arizona, and is considering going for his pro card next year.