The first time Amanda Stevens witnessed an ironman triathlon, she had a realization.
Why does anybody want to do that to themselves?
Mind you, she was a triathlete herself. She competed in the U.S. Olympic trials twice and had even done some half-ironman races. But when the Oklahoma native went to watch her husband do an ironman three years ago, the distances — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run — seemed crazy to her.
“Everybody just looks miserable,” she told husband, Randy, that day.
The couple laughs now at the story.
That's because Stevens did her first ironman a year later. Within that calendar year, she did three more. Now, she is a professional triathlete who will compete in the Ironman World Championships next month in Hawaii.
Thing is, just making it to the world championships has been a struggle for Stevens. A mystery illness wreaked havoc on her and left her searching for answers much of this past year. There were medical tests. There were doctor's visits. There were maddening moments, especially since Stevens is also a licensed medical doctor.
“It was more frustration with not having answers,” Stevens said, “and knowing that there had to be an answer.”
With hundreds of triathletes coming to Oklahoma City this weekend for the Redman Triathlon, Stevens finally has an answer and is ready to see what she can do.
The trouble started almost a year ago. While she was doing the running portion of triathlons, she'd develop stomach pain so severe that she could hardly keep going. Because she long had issues with her gastrointestinal tract, she would change things in her diet in the hopes that would help.
And for awhile, it did.
“But the crashes were getting worse and worse and worse,” she said.
Stevens gutted it out as best she could.
“I'm an athlete,” she said. “My job is to push myself.”
But during a training camp last February, her coach had a chance to see Stevens' struggles with his own eyes. He realized that something wasn't right and that she needed testing.
Stevens, who grew up in Enid and now lives in Oklahoma City, had a colonoscopy, a scope of the upper part of her gastrointestinal tract and all sorts of other procedures.
“But everything kept coming back negative,” she said.
Even as the doctors were telling her that they couldn't find anything wrong with her, Stevens got to the point where she could no longer train or race. She hoped that some time away would take care of whatever was ailing her.
Eventually, she decided to try to race again. She went to an ironman event in Florida, but her body shut down around Mile 7 of the 26.2-mile run. She managed to get herself across the finish line, but it was a struggle.
Several weeks later, she tried again to race in Kansas. This time, her body shut down around Mile 9.
All the while, she continued to undergo medical testing. Her doctors eventually decided to test for food allergies. Did she have a severe intolerance for some things? Were there foods in her diet that might be causing problems?
The results of those tests finally came back and showed that she had sensitivities to about 50 foods. Several were mild sensitivities, including egg yolks, while some were severe intolerances, including mango and raw spinach.
“I probably had a spinach salad five nights a week,” Stevens said.
Those intolerances were building up and causing serious problems when Stevens pushed herself on race day. She completely cut any food for which she had any level of intolerance from her diet. She had always been mindful of what she ate — she avoided the inner aisles at the supermarket where the processed foods are, bought nothing that had a shelf life of more than a week and ate products with no more than 10 ingredients — but even some of her healthy choices were problematic for her body.
Stevens started seeing improvement with her new diet, racing three times in Europe earlier this summer and getting better in each event.
She now has her sights set on the world championships, where winning will likely take a time of a little under nine hours.
Even though this year has been difficult, Stevens never wavered in her desire to continue racing. She loves the challenge, pushing the limits, seeing what she can achieve. She fought for the chance to keep swimming and biking and running and driving her body to extremes.
“You go through frustration,” she admitted. “But there's such a strong desire in me to succeed and go out and achieve my goals, there was never a doubt.”
The woman who couldn't understand why anybody would want to do ironman triathlons now can't imagine her life without them.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.