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As triathlete Triny Willerton lay in a hospital bed, too critically injured to move, she asked a nurse for a prognosis. Just days earlier, in early May 2018, while out training for the Ironman qualifier race in her hometown of Boulder, Colo., she was struck by a pickup truck as she biked along the race course.
With multiple broken bones and a punctured lung, “the nurse told me a good goal would be to try and walk so I could take my kids trick-or-treating,” Willerton says. The limitations didn’t register. “I was going to Kona. I never focused on what I couldn’t do,” she says.
Just five months after the crash—with the help of the tri community and her medical team, along with the support of husband Nigel and their children—the 47-year-old age-grouper is racing in the Ironman World Championship. She was granted a special slot into the event via Women For Tri.
As we sit overlooking Kailua Bay, four days before the big race, Willerton recalls the crash in detail. The force of the truck’s grill on impact, the nurses who just happened to be driving by the crash scene, the fact that she could still feel her legs, the knowledge that she would survive. “I never lost consciousness,” she says. “I remember everything.” (A criminal case against the driver continues, and Willerton claims he was negligent when he crashed into her as she attempted to make a left turn.)
Even though her body is nearly healed (she admits she’s not at peak fitness but will be soon), Willerton’s emotional scars are still raw. Loud noises can scare her—a sign of PTSD. Her eyes well up when she flashes to tri friends who’ve suffered tragedies like hers but haven’t had her same outcome. “I definitely have some survivor’s guilt.”
But she’s made incredible strides. “I’m so much stronger than I thought I was,” she says, expressing over and over gratitude toward the people in her life. “I’ve never felt alone.”
Willerton is trying to make sense of everything’s that’s happened and how she will turn the near-death experience into something meaningful. “I’m still trying to find my mission,” she says.