SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rebekah Bradford was a highly trained athlete. She couldn't figure out why she was out of breath just walking up a flight of stairs.
Turns out, she was suffering from a potentially life-threatening condition.
Bradford was stricken with a pulmonary embolism last year, making her bid to reach the Olympics for a second time especially challenging. She is competing at the U.S. speedskating trials, which begin Friday in suburban Salt Lake City.
"It's not been the easiest road to get where I wanted to be," Bradford said.
Blood clots developed in her legs and eventually spread to her lungs, making it difficult to complete the simplest of tasks without getting winded. Over the course of six months, her condition kept getting worse and worse, leaving her in such excruciating pain that death seemed like a good option.
"I would never wish that on anyone," Bradford said, remembering her low point in September 2012. "Finally, my husband said, 'Enough's enough. I'm getting you to the (emergency room).' I was curled up on the ground. I couldn't even move. I'm not suicidal or anything, but if I had stopped breathing at that moment, at least I would not have been in any more pain."
The normal recovery period for such a serious ailment is around two years. Of course, Bradford didn't have that long if she wanted to compete at the Sochi Games. She has worked hard to speed up the process and feels she has a legitimate shot to again make the American team.
Bradford will compete for one of four spots in the 500 and 1,000 meters, and she may take a run at the 1,500 if her body feels up to it. It's going to be especially tough to make the team at those distances, which are ruled by two of the top U.S. medal contenders, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe.
"There are quite a few women on the bubble who can make the team," the 30-year-old Bradford said. "I know there's going to be some girls that have their hearts broken, and I hope it's not me."
She's already overcome so much just to get this far.
A year after competing in Vancouver Olympics, where she finished 29th in the 1,000, Bradford had surgery on both knees, a procedure performed by someone who knows a thing or two about speedskating — Dr. Eric Heiden, the five-time gold medalist from the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.