Home > Feature

Nothing stops Angela Naeth. Nothing.

After overcoming Lyme disease and still managing to get eighth at the Ironman World Championship in 2018, Angela Naeth overcame two wrist surgeries this year to earn a spot at the 2020 Kona race.

For two years Angela Naeth has been overcoming sickness and injury – and overcoming those challenges in style. Last year she managed to battle Lyme disease and still take eighth in Kona. This year she bounced back from a broken wrist that required two surgeries to take a big win at Ironman Chattanooga. Now it’s time for a well-deserved break.

Angela Naeth on the run at Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast. Photo: @higgybabyphotography

“This is like a whole new game for me,” Naeth said in an interview earlier this week. The “new game” is having already nailed her qualification for the Ironman World Championship next year thanks to her Chattanooga win. “It brings down the anxiety levels, the stress. Right now I’m feeling a little burned out, and felt like I needed a break. There’s no reason for me to do an Ironman. My goal is to be as refreshed and ready for Kona next year.”

“A little burned out” is the understatement of the year. Early in 2018 Naeth found out that she had Lyme disease, which derailed the start of her race season. In hopes of getting to Kona, she embarked on a crazy race schedule that saw her compete in four Ironman races in hopes of earning her Kona slot.

Earning the slot didn’t come easily – it only came after an appeal saw two women disqualified at Ironman Maastricht for cutting the swim course. Once she got to the Big Island, though, Naeth more than proved she deserved that spot – taking eighth. Based on all she’d been through during the year leading up to the race, even she was surprised with the result.

“After my year in 2018 … I was in no position to come eighth,” she said.”Sometimes things happen. That whole race catapulted my mindset. You just never know.”

2019 didn’t start out a whole lot easier than 2018, though. She had a relapse of her Lyme symptoms. In May, one of the medications that she had to take created low blood sugar, which caused her to faint while waiting in line for a smoothie after a swim workout and she broke her wrist. Two days later she had surgery and had a waterproof cast put on. In early June, since she was living in Boulder, she figured she would jump in to Ironman Boulder and “see what she could do.” Things weren’t going well, so she pulled out of the race on the run.

Shortly after that she went to see another specialist in Vail to get some advice on a brace she could use on her wrist as it continued to heal. That doctor did a CT scan and realized that the original operation wasn’t going to allow the wrist to heal to the level required for an elite athlete. So she went in for another surgery in June.

She woke to find she had an external fixator on her wrist that would stay for almost a month. It comes as no surprise that Naeth came back less than a month after the fixator was removed to compete at Ironman Canada in Whistler.

“Just don’t crash,” her surgeon said.

Of course, that’s exactly what she did.

“I was switching a water bottle and I hit a pot hole,” she said. “I had one hand on aero bar and it broke. I threw my arm in the air to protect it and landed on my ribs and torso.”

Luckily enough nothing was broken, but she did have severe bruising of her ribs.

So, of course, Naeth picked herself up and headed to Ironman Copenhagen, one of the final qualifiers for this year’s Ironman World Championship. A fourth-place finish wasn’t enough to get her to Kona.

Angela Naeth celebrates at the top of the podium at Ironman Chattanooga with Lisa Roberts (left) and Lenny Ramsay (right).

The win in Chattanooga suddenly changes the 2020 picture dramatically. Now she can follow a slow build gearing up for the world championship in October.

“The overall race schedule for 2020 is completely wide open,” she said. “This year I’ve never been super on form – I was very happy to get the Kona spot, so it was great to take a break.”

Naeth entered Ironman Cozumel this weekend, but decided that after two big years of recovery and racing, it was time for a break.

While she hasn’t nailed down her race plans, she does want to race as much in North America as possible – listing Ironman St. George and Ironman Canada in Penticton as race possibilities.

With a Kona slot already in hand, 2020 shouldn’t pose quite as many challenges. But even if they arise, there’s a good chance that Naeth will overcome them in style. She always seems to.