If ever there was an unsung hero, Britni Bakk would be one. Britni is our sports most humble legend banking well over 40 Ironman races, 12 of which in Kona, Hawaii. While she doesn't sing her praises on social media nor seek public attention, she thrives on sharing knowledge and coaching athletes to their own best self and tapping deep into their emotional, mental and physical potential.
As one of Brite's Head Coaches, I asked Britni to share a bit of her own story and most specifically, the ebbs and flows of the past couple of years. While she makes it looks, it was anything but....
Two Years in Rearview
Coach Britni Bakk
What two years means in the life of a triathlete ? A lot can happen. In the grand scheme of life that isn't that long. But for a triathlete that has some stalls in their racing schedule it can seem an eternity.
I raced my 12th Kona this year. It was, what I would call, a gratitude race. Grateful to be semi healthy and grateful to be on the start line.
2016 started with a dog taking me down on my bike. A month later a broken tibia from a fall on the stairs. (Don't try to work on a computer as you go down the stairs). Just as my tibia was healed I suffered a seizure. As I was being treated for that the doctors discovered an abnormality in my heart along with high blood pressure. That was a lot to have thrown at me in a 12 month period. The heart issue, known as SVT, warranted surgery.
As I made forward progress with one injury and a new issue would arise. It was endless. For someone whose has trained and raced healthy for so many years I was in foreign space. I was forced to deal with a new set of obstacles. Frustration, stress, the possibility of not ever racing again, the possibility of losing the lifestyle I cherish so much.
With all of the adversity i learned to live, train and race vicariously through my friends and athletes. I learned to focus on what i could do to - to better my athlete body and mind.
I started with slowing down. I think this is the most important thing I learned over the 2 year period. We as athletes put so much pressure on ourselves. We maximize every hour of the day to try and balance family, work, training and all the curve balls life throws at us along the way. We have to find the time each and every day for a peaceful activity. Whatever that may be for you, a short walk with your spouse and kids, meditation, devices turned off and a chapter of a good book. Make it easy and accessible.
Figure out what activities you can safely do to keep connected to your fitness. Work on your core- as I was on crutches for 6 weeks and unable to run for 6 months. Core work was key. 15 minutes a day is a difference maker. It sets our body up for all three sports. I swam every day with a pull buoy. I appreciated every single session. The strength that I accumulated in the water was both mental and physical.
Do what you can when you can. Be patient and things will turn around. My injuries were like the darkest spot of an Ironman. I just had to wait them out until the next aid station and glass of coke.
Getting Back to the Start Line
It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. The tibia injury was the worse. There were 3 races booked and paid for that all had to be canceled at the last minute. Santa Rosa 70.3, Ironman Canada and Ironman Cozumel. I had expected to be healed for each of these races but my leg said no. Then winter came and I was back running. Finally. Then Bang SVT. The worst part of this was not knowing what was happening. It took the cardiologist time to diagnose and even longer to explain what was, how common it is and most importantly it wasn't life threatening (unless it lead to A-fib). I was given the option for surgery right away. It sounded very invasive and carried the possibility that if something were to go wrong I could end up with a pace maker. I had a two month period where my heart would race to 130 bpm for no reason. The episodes would last from 20 min to 2 hours. As I slowed my life down the episodes were less frequent and shorter. I started to be able actions that would trigger the tachycardia. The plan was to test my heart is race and make a decision based on that.
Before I go further I was amazed at the number of people I knew or friends of mine knew that had this condition. They were a great source of information and support through this difficult time. Thank you to all.
I chose to race Honu 70.3 to see how my heart would do. What did I have to lose. If something serious were to happen I would sit up and pull myself out of the race. Within the first 10 meters of the swim my heart went into an arrhythmia. My body felt flush with lactic acid I slowed myself down, waited for my body to stabilize and off I went. How could I not keep going it's such a beautiful swim course. The rest of the swim was fine. It wasn't until 30 km in on the bike that I had another episode.
Then Ironman Whistler. With fear i faced this race as Honu before but just acknowledging the moment where my heart wasn't happy. I dealt with the moments as they arose. As every athlete does in every race they do. The troubleshooting you go through in a race ! Admittedly it wasn't my greatest day but it got me to my end goal of each year: to get me to the start line at KONA and is a reminder to keep persevering no matter how bad you think you are doing. It is all about decision making in the moment , Staying present and moving forward.
I chose to wait and do my heart surgery two weeks after kona. And now i have a new lease on life. And am grateful to continue to be an athlete. To aim to race as strong as i can. That is all we want anyways in life right To continue to pursue what we love. So appreciate your health ! Take care of yourself ...
If adversity comes your way - embrace it and work on something new or what you can do in the moment.
Life never stops it just changes.