From becoming the first Canadian to complete a Double-Deca Triathlon—a grueling race equivalent to 20 Iron-man Triathlon races, to other incredible feats Shanda Hill’s ‘superwoman’ ability did not just come about by chance. Her journey is a remarkable one that will leave you in awe of how much pain she had to endure to get back on her feet.
Shanda Hill is an Ultra Triathlete. An Ultra Triathlete is anyone who competes in a triathlon longer than the standard Iron-man Triathlon. Shanda was born in Canada, and resides at the British Columbia. By relating to the events that unfolded later in her life, it becomes evident that Resilience is a factor that gives anyone the vigor to keep going.
Events Leading to the Accident
Prior to 2003 I was a nationally ranked BMX racer. On May 9th, 2003 I had been riding my BMX bike with one of my friends downtown at the Skate park and we decided to ride up to my parent’s home half way up Silver Star Mountain. This ride was not unusual for me as it was a terrific way to help my cardio and legs for racing. Everyone always says that in a moment your entire life can change and so often we float through our lives knowing vaguely that this is true, but never really understanding how true it can be. That moment came for me that day, in just a blink of an eye. From the reports given, I was in the bike lane riding slowly on a gradual uphill when I was struck from behind by a Chevy Blazer. At the point of impact my body flew over 30 feet through the air. Had I not been wearing full Motor-cross racing gear and a full-face helmet I am 100% certain that I would not be here today.
Luckily, my friend was trained in first aid and performed C-Spine Control to stabilize my neck and spine. 911 was called and an ambulance arrived within 7 minutes and I was taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital. I was completely unresponsive but had a pulse and was still breathing. The first vague memory I have after the accident is how bright the lights were on the hospital ceiling. They seemed blinding and then everything went fuzzy again. Finally I was stabilized and began the recovery and healing process.
Road to Recovery
Oct 10th 2003, 5 months after the accident, I was scheduled for an MRI in Vancouver and a month later on Nov 10th 2003, I received the results back from my MRI that showed grey area in the frontal global area of my brain that showed a pool of dried blood indicating a traumatic brain injury. I was also healing from neck and back injury which I found debilitating day after day. In Nov 2003 my Doctor advised me to try to find work and I began helping out our local pool assisting the disabled in swimming techniques.
I always had continual headaches and back pain and hoped that being in the water would be a low impact way to help. It was not until Dec 16th 2003 That I was finally given a final diagnosis by Dr Maryinak, who was a Rehabilitation Specialist. He stated I had a fractured back and Post Trauma Brain Injury. He recommended that I have physio three times a week and it would take about 6 months for my back to properly heal. It seemed like such a break- through at the time to finally have a medical professional validate such a serious problem. It was not until Jan 15th 2004, 7 months after the accident that I was sent to Dr Spellacys, a Psychologist, to be tested in Victoria, B.C. He confirmed that I had a brain injury As a result of the Brain injury I sustained in the accident I suffered from many symptoms some of which included, high sensitivity to light, dizziness and swelling of the back of my neck and head. Extreme sensitivity to high frequency noise emitted by the television. Irrational, irritable and continual headaches. I had sticky fluid that came out of my eyes for weeks after the accident not just at night but throughout the day. I spent nights with an ice pack on the back of my neck just to be able to sleep, and to this day I still experience swelling, tenderness and headaches after running.
My behavior changed drastically. I would over-react. I suffered extreme mood swings and frustration over the littlest things that seemed so overwhelming. I had trouble reading and concentrating.My biggest frustration came in the way of extreme fatigue. All this time it had been my goal to race my BMX again, at any level, I struggled with imbalance and the claustrophobia of putting a full face helmet on and finally settled for a half face so I would be less nauseous. By 2008 I was by no means a Pro bmx’er again at a level I had previously enjoyed. But I was making improvements every day. I had continued to walk, partially to be able to say there was something I COULD DO but also because it gave me some kind of focus and seemed to help my overall well being.
The Journey So Far. . .
Flash forward to 2009, six years after my accident. I had heard a couple of girls in the sauna at the gym talking about how they had been training for a half marathon for the last six months. I thought to myself, that this was something that would be a good goal for me. I had no idea what I was doing or even how far a half marathon was, but talked my father into signing up with me and we finished together at 2:01:56. The pounding from the running not only swelled up the previously injured area in my neck but it gave me a wicked headache and I had to depend on a ice pack just to sleep at night.
I remember thinking maybe running wasn’t my thing after all. It was full on BMX season after that run at the start of 2009 and I had made a bigger goal, even though I was classified as an amateur racer I decided that I wanted to get an overall national #1 placing. I not only was able to qualify in the U.S.A. and earn a #2 National Age Class Ranking in BMX but take home the Canadian Overall National Title for the Women’s Cruiser Class. One of only four Overall National Titles given out in men’s and women’s classes each year. As time goes on I have never been pain free, but I do believe I have developed a higher tolerance for it. I contribute a lot of my recovery to a plant based lifestyle which has always helped reduce my inflammation.
Regular visits to the gym to build muscle in my back where I have scar tissue has been the key to living with pain. Spring 2010 came and I was encouraged to take up running again. I went out and ran 10km, this time a much more reasonable distance and only one ice pack was used that night. Training has never been my strong point so instead I signed up for every race in the Okanagan I could find. If 10km worked, why not twenty? 42? 50Km?
As a result of my injury I had a lot of people telling me I wasn’t capable of such things. 2010 was my first full year of running and I ran over 700 kms in races over a 7 month period, including my first Marathon ever and my first Ultra Marathon 50km. I was hooked. Since 2010 I have competed in over a hundred races. In July, 2016, I competed in the Oregon Double Anvil—2x Ironman distance and won 2nd female overall In Oct, 2016, I signed up for the Virginia Quintuple Anvil and won 1st female overall and 5th overall in men’s. I was the 1st Canadian female ever to complete and I hold the fastest quintuple female overall course run time record to date of 47:33:21 (closest female was over 5 hours behind) I didn’t stop there.
In August, 2017, I flew to Buchs, Switzerland, and competed in the Swiss Deca Ultra Continuous —10x ironman distance. I placed 2nd in the female overall. I was the 1st Canadian woman ever to complete a Deca (38km swim,100km bike, 422km run) Almost immediately after that in Oct 2017 I flew Virginia and competed in the Virginia Triple Anvil 3x Ironman distance and won 1st Female overall. I was scheduled to fly home 3 days after that race and a friend & mentor was begging me to come and compete at a 2nd Deca race in Leon, Mexico. An hour from flying home I called the race director for the World Championships Deca from the airport and told him that I wanted him to enroll me for the following weekend. Instead of flying home I pulled all of my gear off the plan and flew Mexico instead. In Oct 2017 I competed in that Deca and placed #1 overall female.
In 2017 I received a title of #1 out of 26 female Ultra athletes in the world by the IUTA I made a IUTA confirmed World Record as the first female to ever complete two Decas in a year (nevermind back to back in 2.5 months). In 2018 I went back to Switzerland and completed my 3rd Deca where I placed 1st overall female.
Reflections. . .
Everyone always says that in a moment your entire life can change and so often we float through our lives knowing vaguely that this is true, but never really understanding how true it can be. Shanda Hill, has now broken records becoming the first Canadian to complete a Double-Deca Triathlon—a grueling race equivalent to 20 Iron-man Triathlon races.
Here are some of her quote:
“Your focus each day is to get up and keep moving,” she said.
“I really like to know what are our limitations and I really think now that it’s limitless.”
It’s true that life is uncertain, and we can only make the best of it while alive. Still, it is never too late to push on no matter the obstacles that come our way. This story of Shanda Hill, is one that shows Resilience against all Odds.
Featured image: Shanda Hill, Cycling. Image Courtesy of JD.