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Thursday, November 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane med student finishes Ironman’s toughest course despite illness

Nic Carey, a 24-year-old medical student in Spokane, this month competed in the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. He completed the course despite having his appendix removed three weeks earlier, and falling ill before the race. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Nic Carey, a 24-year-old medical student in Spokane, this month competed in the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. He completed the course despite having his appendix removed three weeks earlier, and falling ill before the race. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Nic Carey was ecstatic. After completing five Ironman competitions the 24-year-old Spokane medical student finally qualified for the big one: the Ironman World Championships held in Hawaii.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

One night about three weeks before the race, Carey awoke with a sharp pain in his side and a fever. In the morning, he had an emergency appendectomy.

The doctor told him he couldn’t run or swim for at least two weeks.

Then, two days before the race Carey became ill after eating at a prerace, all-you-can-eat buffet.

“I tend to eat a lot at those things,” he said. “That night I came home and had some pretty serious GI issues.”

To top it off, Carey hadn’t trained as much as he would have liked because of the intensity of medical school.

“Every year it’s one of my goals to try and qualify,” he said of the competition’s most difficult and prestigious course. “This was the year that I had finally qualified, but it was just the worst timing.”

But Carey, who is in his second year at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane, doesn’t like to give up.

He was still sick the day before the race. Vomiting and constant bathroom trips meant he was losing fluids he’d desperately need come race time. A doctor pumped 2 liters of fluid into him via IV. Then Carey went to bed.

On Oct. 10, race day, Carey was dehydrated and his stomach was roiling. Still, he suited up and started the swim portion of the three-pronged race.

“There were a lot of times where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish,” he said.

Fourteen hours, 52 minutes and 34 seconds later he did.

Knowing that people were cheering him on kept him moving. His family had traveled to Hawaii to watch him and he knew he had lots of supporters online.

“For me it was embarrassing to know that I was going so slow,” he said. “I would have been even more embarrassed if I hadn’t finished.”

Carey started competing in Ironmans after watching the Coeur d’Alene Ironman in 2011. He was so inspired by the athletes that he signed up that day.

Usually in the Ironmans he’s in the top 10 for his age group, but prior to this summer he’d never placed high enough to qualify for Hawaii. That changed when he placed third in Boulder, Colorado, in August.

Ideally, when he’s training for an Ironman, Carey runs 25 miles a week, goes on 100-mile bike rides on the weekends, and swims three or four times a week.

In high school in Clarkston, Carey played a number of sports.

“I wouldn’t say he was an outstanding athlete but a good athlete and he was determined,” said Sam Carey, Nic’s grandfather.

Carey said it took him about 10 days to fully recover after the race. On the flight home his legs swelled to nearly double their size.

Carey plans to take a break from competing in Ironmans and focus solely on school. He said he approaches medical school much like an Ironman – bit by bit.

“I think it’s helpful to micromanage everything and not think about how much you have left,” he said.

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