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Lionel Sanders On Overcoming Drug Addiction

From substance abuser to successful pro, Lionel Sanders chats about his extraordinary path to becoming a triathlon champion.

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From substance abuser to successful professional triathlete, Lionel Sanders chats with USA Today about his extraordinary path to becoming a triathlon champion.

A mile into the marathon, Lionel Sanders was in the hurt box. That’s what Erin MacDonald, his fiancee, called it as she watched from their home in Canada. She could see that no matter how Sanders finished this Ironman, his body was going to pay.

For his two years as a pro triathlete, Sanders had excelled at subjecting his body to pain. He even calls the room where he trains the pain cave.

By the time he’d started the 26.2-mile run in the North American Ironman Championships in May, Sanders had overcome a more than 9-minute deficit from the 2.4-mile swim and briefly taken the lead during the 112-mile bike leg. In the 86-degree heat, it came at a cost.

“I had never seen him look that bad that early in a run,” says MacDonald.

In second place going into the final leg, Sanders struggled as he finished fourth. It was the most he’d suffered in a race, he said afterward, and the hardest he’d pushed himself since his first Ironman as an amateur five years ago.

By breakfast the next day, he was grateful. With six wins in Ironman and 70.3 races under his belt, Sanders had come to Texas to stand atop the podium.

Perhaps reflective of the journey he’s been on for the past five years — one that’s seen him emerge from drug addiction to being one of the most promising young triathletes in the world — Sanders was not disappointed.

“(That race) was a very joyful experience, though it might not have shown on my face and in my words,” says Sanders, 27. “But behind it all, I love that stuff. I love it.”

He heads into this weekend’s 70.3 race in Muskoka, Ontario, with eyes ahead to the Ironman World Championships in Kona in October. For a guy who signed up for his first Ironman in 2010 on a lark as he struggled to overcome addiction, the chance to compete in that race (and with a good chance to contend for a podium spot) is remarkable reminder to his path here.

Read more: Usatoday.com

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