A few months ago, Marathon triathlete Leandra Hutchinson could barely lift her left arm over her head. In nine days, she’ll take the start line for one of the most prestigious athletic contests in the world.
Saturday, Oct. 14 marks the women’s Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It’s “the pinnacle of the sport,” as Hutchinson told the Weekly.
“Every Ironman triathlete’s dream is to get to Kona.”
But in the closing month of 2022, her next race was her last thought. A triathlete since 2019, Hutchinson had just recently completed her first full Ironman race – a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run, all back to back – in Cozumel, Mexico in November. But when she decided to test her mettle again in December with the Key West sprint triathlon, crowded streets and an unseen road hazard sent her flying off her bike at 27 mph, landing on her head and shoulder.
“I separated the shoulder, I tore muscles and had lacerations all over my body,” she said. “I was down for the count.”
Faced with orthopedic surgeons’ warnings that she may never swim again – one of her favorite components of the race, while “I only run because it’s part of a triathlon,” she joked – Hutchinson began an extensive rehab process for muscles and a bone structure that will never fully heal in the absence of a complex surgery.
But in July, she got an unexpected call: Her Cozumel time was good enough to qualify for the world championship race just three months away. With 48 hours to make her decision, Hutchinson had yet to ride her bike since the crash, and still lacked the range of motion to swim for more than a minute at a time. But the opportunity was “just the dream,” as she told her doctors, friends and family.
“If I say no, I’ll never know if I could have done it. So I said yes, and figured it out afterwards.”
Two and a half months later, Hutchinson said she knows she’s still recovering in some sense, and wishes she had a little more time to bike and swim. Just to note: “A bit more” is on top of the three 100-mile bike rides and one 70-mile ride in the last month alone. On the date of her interview with the Weekly, since accepting the world championship slot on July 27, Hutchinson had logged 32 miles in the water, 1,202 miles of biking and 165 miles pounding the pavement.
“Taking in my effort level, my heart rate … all the biometric indicators are that I’m (actually) more fit than I was going into Cozumel,” she said, adding that her running is significantly stronger than it was a year ago.
She acknowledged the recovery and warp-speed training plan were all made possible by a wide-reaching support tribe at her back, including training partner Bucky Wile, therapist Christy Minor, Lara Martin and Hapynkeys Running, and international triathlon team The Betty Squad.
And when asked for the “why” behind what many would consider an impossible fitness climb after such a severe injury, Hutchinson left no doubt.
“Kona is celebrating the fact that I lived through what I lived through and I was able to recover,” she said. “We all are capable of more than we know. I have two daughters, and I want to show them that it would have been very easy for me to quit and give up, but you can achieve anything you want if you stay focused on your goals and dreams.”
To watch the best of the best compete in the world championship race, visit ironman.com/live on Oct. 14.