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A couple health scares couldn’t keep this age-grouper from racing her first triathlon.
At 41 years old, Emily Holcroft was in the shape of her life while training for her first triathlon. A year prior, the nurse and mother of four almost lost her life when an artery was nicked during a hysterectomy. “After a long recovery, I made up my mind that I was going to live life and get back to the things I once loved prior to having children,” she says. “Knowing that running wasn’t my strength, a friend recommended looking into a triathlon.”
While training for that first triathlon in August 2013, she started noticing shortness of breath during her workouts—her bike rides went from 25 miles to 5 miles; she could barely swim 500 yards when she was used to swimming 3600 and her 3-mile runs were reduced to a half mile. Then she started having pain in her left arm. “I was extremely frustrated—I thought I pulled my bicep muscle while swimming,” she says. “Never in a million years was an impending heart attack on my radar.”
The morning of her heart attack, four weeks out from the race, she was barely able to swim one length of the pool, and her coworker insisted she go to the ER, where she was diagnosed as having a panic attack and sent home with a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. Two hours later, she collapsed on her living room floor. She woke up three days later in the ICU after having emergency open-heart surgery for a quadruple bypass. Despite no family history of heart disease, she was diagnosed with coronary artery disease.
“My cardiac surgeon was standing at the end of my bed and all I can remember saying to him was, ‘Does this mean I can’t do my triathlon?’” Holcroft recalls. “He smiled and said, ‘No, not this year.’” Even so, a month later, barely able to walk, she showed up on race morning to pick up her race number and swag—if they wouldn’t refund her registration fee, she wanted to at least enjoy the pre-race celebration.
During the following two years, Holcroft underwent cardiac rehab and faced several setbacks along the way. “But if anyone knows me, they know that I’m not a quitter,” she says. She was finally able to race her first triathlon in June 2015 at the Tri-It Festival in Bear, Del. “Crossing over that finish line was the most exhilarating feeling I could have ever imagined,” she says. She raced four triathlons in her first season, finishing on the podium in her age group in two of them.
Her biggest motivation has come from finding fulfilling friendships in her tri club and the bonus of training and racing with her husband. “It has strengthened our marriage and is inspiring for our children,” she says.
Holcroft, who lives in Middleton, Del., is signed up for five short-course races in 2016 and would like to do a half-Ironman in 2017. “And, of course, I have the full Ironman dream!” she says. “We’ll see what God has in store. But I know one thing for sure—when I do sign up for an Ironman, it won’t be on the East Coast. I’m going tropical!”