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Three Cs: Crash, Comeback, Championships

One young triathlete has already mastered the rigors of rising after a fall

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The driver wanted to head left. As he arched through the turn, he found open pavement and 10-year-old Olivia Wade.

Her father, Jim, biked behind his daughter and watched the crash unfold in front of him as the car collided with Olivia on her bike.

Jim says some apprehension creeps into his mind at races, but the crash amplified his worst fears for the immediate safety of his child.

wade"I love the swim," he says. "I love the run. The bike ride's scary. They disappear, and they're gone until they're back safe in transition. This is that times 100."

Hours after the wreck, doctors finally assured Olivia's parents that she'd sustained fractures and not more serious internal damage.

The broken left leg and shoulder haven't resulted in any long-term effects for Olivia. In fact, she'll compete in the USA Triathlon Youth and Junior National Championships held in West Chester, Ohio, on Aug. 3-4.

Coming back
Olivia, now 12, tried other sports, but triathlon finished first every time.

"I like everything about it," she says. "The three sports combined makes it three times as great and three times as difficult. I like how it's challenging, but not impossible."

The challenge switched from workouts to working on patience as her body healed. Sitting on the couch was the worst, she says.

After months of progression — wheelchair, crutches, walking boot — Olivia found herself on her feet once again. Then came physical therapy and, more important, figuring out whether she even wanted to return to racing.

"I think there was a point in time that I got really mad that I wasn't as fast," she says.

The family talked about curbing expectations and sticking to local races instead of national-level events. But time, as it tends to, clarified life.

"There was no way I could stop," Olivia says.

When she ran a snappy mile in her school's P.E. class, she felt her confidence returning.

"I got down to 6:10," she says. "I beat my PR. I was so happy."

Capturing the run
Olivia spent some rehab sessions with a running specialist, who she still sees regularly.

"Making sure one problem isn't creating another," Jim says.

Olivia will enter junior high this fall, but she's already found a talent among the three disciplines. In a July race, she finished with the fastest run split of any girl on her team.

"She's starting to form her sense of being a runner," says Jim Vance, who coaches the TriJuniors USA Triathlon high-performance team in San Diego, Calif.

He watched Olivia from the run course at the recent race.

"You could hear all the people on the road go, 'Wow, look at that girl go. She's moving very fast.' It's clear she's at a level above most of her peers in terms of running ability."

Olivia has been running since second grade.

"I've always loved it so much," she says. "My best friend Veronika brought me into running."

wade
Olivia Wade and Veronika Divis.
Jim credits Veronika Divis with helping his daughter's recovery. Veronika would split the number of laps she ran and allot the other half to Olivia, so the girls would have the same amount at the end of the school year, as if there were no crash to disrupt their running time.

Chasing championships
This weekend will mark Olivia's fourth Youth and Junior National Championships.

She raced last year, the first after the crash, but now she's had a full year to train. She wants a top-10 spot. Even so, her coach has his priorities on process, not podiums.

"I want her to enjoy the event," Vance says. "I want her to feel like she's competitive and improving. I think that's key for all juniors. If they feel they're improving, they tend to feel a lot better about what they're doing."

Vance says his goals for Olivia are technical details essential for a young triathlete, such as trying to draft on the swim or driving through the top of the bike pedal stroke.

Seeking those types of improvements means the team workouts take priority in the Wade household now. Still, that doesn't exclude Olivia from family outings. When the team has rest days, the family heads out for a bike ride.

Nearly 800 young triathletes, from Junior Elite to Youth Elite to youth age-groupers, will compete in the 2013 USA Triathlon Youth and Junior National Championships on Aug. 3-4. A live blog will be available on Saturday, Aug. 3. More information on the event can be found at usatriathlon.org/youthnationals. 

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