Heart Surgery to Ironman
Corinne Ellison (now Pryer), was a fit young women of 27 with her whole life ahead of her, until she was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. A diagnoses that would not only dramatically change her own life, but would touch the hearts of thousands around the world.
Prior to her diagnoses, Corinne was an amateur runner who struggled with asthma, but even so, in 2009 she joined a Triathlon club. She quickly threw herself into her new found passion and completed her first sprint and olympic triathlons' in the same year.
It was later in 2009 that Corinne began to notice a few problems when she was training, tiredness, shortness of breath followed by palpitations and chest pains and her lips and tips of her fingers would turn a blue tinge. At first, Corrine suspected over training, but after continuing problems, she decided it was time to visit her local doctor for further investigation.
Given Corinne was only 27 and her generally level of physical fitness was good, the doctor thought it unlikely there would be any issue with Corinne's heart. As a qualified nurse and midwife, Corinne disagreed and pushed for tests to be carried out. She completed an ECG and echo scan (similar to an ultra sound) within a matter of days.
The tests revealed a problem, they'd found a hole in her heart, and further tests produced a diagnosis of Atrial Septal Defect, a large hole between two chambers in her heart causing blood to back-flow, resulting in abnormal swelling of the heart. Ultimately, untreated, this would lead to heart failure and she could die.
Corrine had to wait six months for surgery. During this time, Corinne went from a fit young women training regularly at the club, to an inability to get around normally, unable to even climb a flight of stairs without being severely out of breath. On the 23rd June 2010 Corinne underwent 4 hours of heart surgery, including having her heart stopped for 39 minutes.
She woke in the recovery room in a very drowsy state, she was alive, but it dawned on her that the road to recovery was going to could take a long time and before falling back into a deep sleep, she decided then and there, she needed a goal to help her remain motivated and to recover, the first step on the road to ironman was born.
Corrine had been slowly regaining her strength through walking for over 8 weeks after her operation. She was itching to push harder and get back into training, but the bike and swimming pool were obviously strictly off limits, so she started her first steps into light running with her eyes on the ultimate prize, and another step towards her Ironman dream was taken, Corrine was inspired. The training slowly but continuously progressed and Corinne's grit and determination earned her a place as an ambassador and, a member of the Ironheart Foundation racing team.
By 2011, Corinne had progressed into long distance running and within less than a year since her heart operation, she'd completed the Brighton Half Marathon in 1:57:04 and the London Marathon in a 4:12:55 finish time, an incredible achievement which continued to inspire her more towards her ultimate Ironman goal. But that wasn't all, by the end of the year, Corinne had completed four more Olympic distance triathlons and even a half Ironman event called Vitruvian, which, unbeknown to Corinne, the event organisers were aware of her challenge and she was met with huge cheers from the crowd as she crossed the finish line another great boost of confidence, a necessity with such a huge challenge ahead of her.
July arrived, two years after her heart operation and Corinne arrived in Austria to take part in the Ironman. Known as one of the most beautiful races in the world, IRONMAN Austria has become legendary among athletes, situated around the beautiful landscape of Carinthia, a great course with stable warm weather and it didn't disappoint. But maybe temperatures well into the 30's C (90's F) was a little too much, and as expected the announcement for a non-wetsuit swim was made and Corinne, along with 3000 other athletes entered the water, the Ironman had begun. Corinne loved every minute of the 2.4 mile (3.8km) swim, she came out feeling full of energy to race into the bike transition and cycle for the next 112 miles (180.25km).
Sadly energetic start was not to last. The temperatures reached an incredible 38 degrees (the magic 100F) during the bike section. Corinne began to feel pain in her stomach, her energy levels were low and she was having to stop to eat and drink to keep going, her times were slowing and the heat just kept increasing, she started worrying if she would miss the bike cut off times, never mind beat the 17 hour Ironman cut off time, which would end her race and her mission.
Corinne beat the cut off time and ran into a punishing marathon, by far the most difficult part of the day. Corrine persevered, despite the continuing stomach issues and inability to consume enough food and drink to keep her energy levels up. Exhaustion crept up on her, it became so bad Corrine was hallucinating there were giant worms everywhere, she weaved down the marathon course, unable to keep a straight line. Again the looming 17 hour Ironman cut off was approaching as the sun dropped below the horizon, and the dark crept in on the competitors who were still battling the course.
16 hours and 5 minutes after Corinne entered lake Wörthersee she ran over the finish line exhausted and elated. She had beaten the cut of time by less than 55 minutes, she had battled from the day she woke after heart surgery and on this day, she had been rewarded by her passion and tenacity to succeed, a truly remarkable achievement almost 2 years to the day since open heart surgery.
After competing Ironman Austria, it seemed the logical step to enter Ironman, apparently! Corrine, tells us in her own words, what's happen since.
"The sense of achievement and buzz of the finish line that lasted for weeks. I entered one of the most sought after races, Roth, and to top it off, Ironman Western Australia with my best friend. That was my 2013 sorted!
I continued to train hard, struggling through sessions and slowly but surely started to question my abilities. I started to get more and more chest pain. I went back to see my sports cardiologist, who ran several tests. Following these, he sat me down and broke the news that whilst my heart was working reasonably well, the demands of a punishing Ironman training schedule, plus two planned races was just too much. My body was telling me to slow down, to back off. Initially I was relieved at the news, hearing that I hadn't just imagined finding the training so hard. But as the realisation kicked in, I felt at my lowest point ever. Giving up a way of life took months to adjust to.
In 2014, as I had continued with my favourite discipline, I got a quite last minute entry to the Bournemouth marathon. Living there at the time and loving the coast there, I loved every minute of the day and in a relaxed manner, broke my PB and the 4 hour mark! I was overjoyed! A break year followed, getting married, new job and moving to Reading but I kept up my fitness.
In 2016, my focus was the Brighton marathon. I kept it quiet, trained hard and surprised myself with a time of 3:44, earning me good for age time for the London marathon 2017. This had been a goal since I started running in 2016! 10 years of work finally paid off. I joined a local running club, tried cross country and ran every day in December as a challenge. Very challenging it was too!
Over the years, I have become more aware of my body's needs, injury avoidance, important of stretching, rest and sleep! I made the decision to go vegan and give up alcohol on New Year's Day and took part in Veganuary. After initially feeling worse, I now feel full of energy, clean and healthy. I am grateful to still be able to run, despite a still slightly tired heart and exercise induced asthma. This year, I hope to enjoy the London marathon, soak up the atmosphere and think back to all I achieved since my very first marathon there in 2007. As usual, I expect I'll have tears of pure joy, relief and gratitude at the end"
Corrine is the epitome of what Take a Challenge stands for, despite her doctors advice, she pushed for more tests, she took responsibility for her own life and to this day, she remains the "poster girl" for the Ironheart foundation, a beacon of light for all those going through a tough time who need real inspiration in their lives, we salute her bravery and her passion for life.