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Marita A. Dorenbecher
Win-It!z Sports Public Relations
Tel: (707) 944-1373, (707) 738-7672

The Story of Sara Cate Nelson

A Story of Courage and Commitment

January 31, 2011 – Napa, CA – Growing up in Crystal Lake, Illinois, I was a competitive gymnast.  From the age of 5, all I knew was gymnastics and I loved every minute of it.  I was enthralled in my sport, which was great because gymnastics is so demanding from such a young age.  I had my hopes set on a college scholarship to the University of Michigan; where my mom, Diana, went to school.  At the beginning of the summer before my sophomore year of high school, things looked promising.  I was training hard and was going up to a renowned gymnastics camp up in Wisconsin for a week in July. 

When I arrived, I met my camp counselor who was a gymnast at Michigan--I was so thrilled and couldn't wait for the week!  The day before leaving camp I was tumbling on the floor exercise and a fluke accident happened; I landed directly on my neck and went numb from the neck down.  I was asked to get up and walk it off by one of the coaches- but I heard my neck crack and couldn't feel anything.  I wasn't going anywhere. An ambulance came and took me to the local hospital.  After taking the initial ex rays, the doctors said that I had "double locked-facets" and they couldn't treat me there.  Basically, it meant that I had broken my Cervical 6th and 7th vertebrae and the disc between them was shattered.  I had to be air lifted to Duluth, Minnesota.

My parents flew to Duluth and met me there just before going into surgery.  I had an 8 hour surgery; I had a bone graph from my hip done to fuse the vertebrae together.  The doctor secured the graph with a titanium plate in the front of my spine and a wiring in the back.  I had a 99% chance of being a quadriplegic with this type of break.

Recovery was slow.  I initially still didn't have feeling in any limbs, but I could move them which is a good sign that the nerve damage is minimal.  I had to relearn to hold a pen, feed myself, walk, bath, etc.  My muscles had forgotten how to function.  It was a surreal experience for a fifteen year old.  After about 6 months, I was back to "normal". Able to move, but no longer a gymnast.  I lost myself and began struggle with who I was.  For the record, as a gymnast I hated running, it was a horrible form of torture to have to run a mile...

But I began jogging first, then running... and kept running and running and running.  Then soon after I started swimming and cycling; I became a triathlete.  I found myself again in the structured training and I was inspired to use my body since I am so fortunate to be able to use it.

I started my triathlon career at 18 and it took off.  I did my first Ironman at 19, now at 25 I have done 9 full Ironmans, 13 Half Ironman distance races, countless short course events.  All the while through my triathlon racing and training, I still would race in marathons, half marathons and 10k's once in a while.  But these running races were always based around my triathlons and I never really trained to "just run".  In 2008, I took a year off of training for an Ironman and decided to do a 50 mile trail run in Moab, Utah.  Wow...ultra running is crazy, what an experience that was.  I don't think my body was made to run that distance...

So, in 2009 I got back into the pool and on my bike.  I did two Ironmans that year, the last being the Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI.  I put all of my 'eggs in the basket" for Kona.  I wanted to try and meet the qualifications to go professional for the 2010 season. Race day came and I had nothing; my head and my heart weren't there anymore.  I crossed the finish line about 2 hours after the time I was shooting for and knew that I wouldn't be racing in any Ironman events for quite a while.  I had gotten my fill.

Which brings us to 2010-2011:  Running was always my strength in triathlon; I would run down my competitors consistently in so many races.  I wanted to really see how much I could push myself in marathon racing.  Marathons, if you are really pushing yourself to race, are the hardest races I've done.  I did 4 marathons in 2010; with a Personal Record of 3:24 at the Marine Corp Marathon in October.  I'm still learning how to train to 'just run'.  But it is a whole different animal that I have enjoyed.

I'm so excited to open my season in Napa and can't wait to bring home some great WINE! :)  I'm running Boston a little over a month after, so it should be a great couple of months at two epic marathons. I have lived and worked in Boulder, CO for the past 5 years.  

I live with my supportive, loving boyfriend and the greatest training partner, my dog, a husky, Blue!  He trains with me on all of my runs. He is a phenomenal athlete!  I am an Operations Manager for World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman).  

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