After bed rest, triathlons

08/16/2012

When she isn’t designing jewelry or clothes, working on her book or coaching other athletes, Barbara Edleston Peterson gets in her car, drives an hour from her home in Berkley to Point Reyes, and proceeds to swim across Tomales Bay before riding her bike as fast as she can to the Point Reyes Lighthouse and back.

“I call it my confidence booster,” the nine-time world champion of XTERRA—a series of off-road triathlon races—said of her lighthouse racing habit, which caps off some of her training days. “There’s something so special about West Marin—its beauty, quietude and diverse terrain—that lures me time and time again.” The seasoned athlete commutes from the East Bay several days a week to exercise in the land she loves and prepare herself for her upcoming races.

But only two years ago she was coming here to heal.

In the fall of 2012, while climbing on shelves to reach a sponsor cap she planned to bring with her to a competition in Europe, Mrs. Peterson fell 12 feet to the ground. When she came to, she felt throbbing in her feet. She soon learned she had suffered bilateral fractures in both heels. She would neither compete in the European race, nor see the starting lines in the national and world championships she had previously dominated. For a moment the only wheels she could move were those attached to the chair that confined her for the next five months.

“I had to move. If you can move you find a way to do it. If you’re hurt you find the parts that do move and you move them,” Mrs. Peterson said, recalling her recovery. Rather than sit through the physical therapy that the average person might choose, she strapped plastic bags around her fracture boots and swam a mile every morning. “I usually swim a mile in under 30 minutes, but with the injury it took me an hour,” she said. “I also did a lot of yoga in the boots. It helped me sustain some level of fitness.” But when the boots came off, her first steps weren’t easy. Her feet felt weak, and the ground, foreign. Her legs, which had atrophied, needed to relearn how to walk.

Three weeks later, on the winter solstice, Mrs. Peterson would find herself standing on the wet sand of Stinson Beach. She pointed north and began to run. With slow, flat-footed and tenuous strides, she made it three-quarters of the way to the end of the beach before coming back. When she got back to her car she picked up her phone and dialed. “I just had my first run,” she told her doctor. 

Mrs. Peterson tried again Christmas morning, this time at Tennessee Valley Trail. “I ran from the parking lot to the ocean and back,” she said. “It wasn’t very far, but I needed to be somewhere that inspired me to move. I needed to be in West Marin.”

After several more attempts, she was running again—and two months later she was back on her mountain bike. “My very first bike ride was in Point Reyes, from the station to Tomales Bay. It felt fine. My body could take it,” she said. It was just weeks before the next XTERRA race in Lake Tahoe. She entered it, and won.  

One month from now, Mrs. Peterson will be entering the national XTERRA championships in Ogden, Utah. “It’s a big one. I have seven titles in it and I’d like another one,” she said. “Then there’s world [championship] at the end of October.” Competition will be fierce. Mrs. Peterson has her eyes on athletes from South Africa and Canada whom she knows she has to watch out for. She’ll study her competitors results, but more than anything she focuses on keeping herself strong.

Mrs. Peterson is also focused on releasing her new book, Making the Most of Bed Rest, a resource and guide for people who are subject to bed rest or temporary immobility. The book will be available this January.