On Nov. 25, Tara Norton was crowned Ultraman World Champion in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It was a remarkable accomplishment on its own, but few know her story of perseverance and her determination to return after she broke a femur in 2016.
Two years ago, Norton competed in her first Ultraman World Championship. “To qualify, you either have to have done an Ultraman before or have been part of a crew,” says Norton. “I had already crewed at Ultraman Florida, so I applied and was put on the waitlist for the 2016 event.”
Months went by, and Norton thought she didn’t get a spot. Then, in September, just weeks before the race, she got the call and accepted her spot. “Once I got word that I was going to be able to race, I did exactly what I tell my athletes not to do – I really ramped up my mileage,” says Norton, a coach for Team Atomica in Toronto, Ontario.
The sudden increase in mileage caused a stress fracture in her femur. “What’s crazy is that no x-ray picked up the fracture,” says Norton. With just three weeks before the race, Norton decided to take three weeks off from running and hoped the pain would subside.
The first two days of the Ultraman World Championship are solely swimming and biking. Day one is the 10K open water swim, followed by 145K of the 430K bike. Day two is the remaining 276K. “Day one and two went great,” says Norton, “but day three was going to difficult with my leg.”
With 84K left to become an Ultraman, Norton pushed the limits of her endurance and pain tolerance. “Ten kilometres into the run I knew my leg was not OK,” says Norton. Despite the pain, the Canadian Ultraman found a way to get to the finish. “I managed to come second, but I was over two hours behind first, and my leg was in agony.”
Again, Norton had an x-ray done, but no fracture was shown.
“Four days later, while hiking, I slipped and heard my femur snap in two,” says Norton.
Immediately, surgery was performed to repair the bone and a year of rehab followed to help restore her strength. “I cannot say enough about the surgeon who operated,” says Norton, “They knew I wanted to be able to run again and the steps were put in place to help me return.”
After a full year of rehab, Norton began to plan her return to Ultraman, with the intention of racing the 2018 Ultraman World Championship. Along the way, Norton was given the opportunity by the Dóxa Threelay organizers to compete in the event, solo, becoming the first Dóxawoman.
She also did the Transelkirks five-day trail race in Revelstoke, British Columbia.
Then, on Nov.23, 2018, Norton returned to the Ultraman World Championship with an amazing performance with many highs and lows. “With a 12-hour cut-off each day, there is a significant physical and emotional toll on your body,” says Norton. “In the tough moments, I reminded myself how thankful I was to be back racing.”
“Some of the hardest moments came on the 276K bike, with over 13,000 feet (4,000m) of climbing, plus the wind, heat and humidity – it was tough to keep going,” says Norton. But, at the end of the three days of competition, Tara Norton crossed the finish line with her daughter to become the 2018 Ultraman (or Ultrawoman) world champion.
When asked, why does Norton do this? She responds by saying, “I enjoy the challenge of putting the swim, bike and run together, and as I get older, I enjoy pushing the higher limit of going longer.”