• Emily Cashel

This is my new ‘race’

“Pedal, pedal, pedal,” I said to myself as I watched a fellow female competitor fly by me like I wasn’t moving. My head hurt and I did not have my usual triathlon mojo. I finally made it back to transition and as I was heading out for the run my husband, Jonathan, asked if I was feeling okay. “Just smile and give him a thumbs up,” I thought. So I did and trekked on. It was hot and my legs were heavy. I had thoughts I had never experienced before in a triathlon like “I just want to stop”, “why does this feel like a death march?”, “I wish my friend would catch me so she could help me finish”, “something is not right”. Finally at mile four I let myself walk a couple of steps at a water stop but instantly knew it felt too good and I had to keep running or at this point slow jogging. I trudged on and my self talk changed from “You’re tearing this up, you got this” to “It’s okay Babe, just do the best you can, one step at a time”. I saw my husband and parents a half mile from the finish and they could tell I was struggling. I tried to pick it up a little as I finally neared the finish. When I crossed the line I immediately had to sit down, it was like my body had used every last ounce of energy to get across the line. It seemed so strange to me as I had done these races several times and never, ever felt this bad. “I never want to do that again,” I told Jonathan. I couldn’t believe those words came out of my mouth. I love triathlon; the training, racing, people and adventure it beholds. But I just felt so physically awful.

I eventually recovered (or so I thought) and even ran a half marathon a couple months later. A couple more months after that thought I began experiencing really strange symptoms..dizziness, chest pain, light headedness. It scared me as my mind went to the extreme thinking I had a heart condition or something worse. I went to a midwife for a physical and she had my thyroid and iron levels blood tested. It turned out I was hyperthyroid and severely anemic and my poor body was basically running on fumes during the triathlon, which is why I felt so terrible. She recommended another practitioner to help with my issues. I got on some supplements, took gluten out of my diet and started to see improvement. After a month in Hawaii that winter my symptoms were mostly gone. I came home and started triathlon training again and they came back with a vengeance. I eventually got diagnosed with Hashimotos, a thyroid disorder in which the body can swing from hypothyroid (underactive) to hyperthyroid (overactive) which is what was happening in my case. I felt like complete hell and had many days in which I thought I was dying. It seemed like something was attacking me internally leaving me so fatigued, weak and sick.

In the two years since then, we have spent thousands of dollars on treatment in search of healing including a trip to the ER to make sure my heart was okay and several visits to an alternative treatment center out of state. I’ve been treated for parasites, yeast overgrowth, hormonal imbalances, adrenal fatigue, food allergies, low iron, leaky gut and thyroid dysfunction. I wish I could say I was completely better and able to do all the things I love but I am still a work in progress. At this point I have removed stress from my life as much as possible, take a nap most days, eat paleo and organic, take a ginormous amount of supplements and make self care a priority.

It is hard to explain to others as most people tell me I look great and in our quick fix society assume I should be better by now. The reality is, I started experiencing deep fatigue back in 2007 but since blood tests indicated everything was ‘normal’, I chalked it up to the triathlon and marathon training I was doing. I went without a menstrual cycle from 2007-2009, which I now recognize, was a pretty obvious red flag that my body wasn’t getting the nutrients it needed. I also now understand the significance of the statement ‘fit does not equal healthy’ and long for all athletes especially women to be very aware of this. I started to struggle with sleep in 2009 as well and continue to. Some days I feel like I’m on another planet because I am so exhausted among the other things my body is fighting.

I am learning a lot and like an onion, the layers continue to peel off as I am enlightened to more. I still feel like my root cause has yet to be identified. I have and will continue to address the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of health as I believe they are just as important if not more so than the physical. I have grieved over the loss of my health as it really does affect every aspect of life. Daily not knowing how you will feel and if you will be able to make it through certain activities or if you will have to force yourself through them despite feeling awful. That is probably the hardest part for me.

As intense of a struggle as this is been though, I honestly wouldn’t trade it. I have learned such deep life lessons and have grown into myself more than I think I could have otherwise. It has made me slow down and truly appreciate the small things in life in a much greater way. I find myself more content in daily life and just so darn grateful to be alive. It has drawn me closer to my husband as we navigate the challenges together. It has set me free from placing my identity in what I do or what I can accomplish. I have come to realize in a very real and personal way the value we have as humans simply by being. Our light is far brighter than any of us know. I am a big believer and even on the hopeless days, there is something greater in me that trusts the journey. I have connected with others struggling with similar issues and found comfort knowing we are never alone on our journeys. There are people suffering far, far worse than most of us can imagine. Living with gratitude and respect for all of life has become my focus and forever changed me. This is my new ‘race’.


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