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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Carlson overcomes physical adversity to tackle the Ironman challenge

Even on the worst day of her life, Sarah Carlson could count on her athletic ability.

As she entered a crosswalk in Manhattan in 2003, a man driving a stolen SUV smashed into Carlson and sent her flying onto the pavement.

“It was empowering, because even when I flew through the air, I remembered my ski training and to protect my head,” Carlson said.

The rest of her body was another matter. Carlson suffered internal bleeding, a compressed lower back and worst of all, a pelvis that was shattered into 40 pieces. She lay in a hospital for eight months and was told by some doctors she might not walk again.

Carlson had nine surgeries, but also had plenty of reasons to prove them wrong. The biggest were her two sets of twins back in Spokane, none of them over the age of 5.

“My motivation was my kids – my goal was to take them by myself to school,” said Carlson, who’s accomplished that and much more: Sunday’s Half Ironman in Coeur d’Alene will be little more than a stroll for the 52-year-old Carlson, who did a full Ironman two years ago.

For that, she can thank her athletic prowess as well as her determination. The 6-foot-tall Carlson played volleyball, basketball, ski-raced and ran track in high school in Aspen, Colorado. She also was a rower at Yale, where she majored in economics.

She moved to Spokane in 1990 and is now a financial planner who owns Fulcrum Financial Group on the South Hill. At the time of the accident she was working for another firm.

However, she was unable to return to full-time work for three years. She required in-home care and needed extra help with her children and business. For a time, the couple’s living expenses nearly tripled. Fortunately, Carlson had disability insurance to cover the mounting bills.

Meanwhile Carlson responded to surgery and became strong enough to walk – though she was peg-legged for about a year.

“I was told not to push it,” said Carlson, who also got the news that at the age of 39 that she would almost certainly need a new pelvis and hips within three years.

Told she was living on borrowed time, Carlson decided to make the most of it. Pushing herself, Carlson walked on her own and found that the experts were wrong – again. Thirteen years later, her original hip and pelvis are still intact.

Thanks to her athletic background, they’ve taken Carlson far beyond a walk to school. By her definition, “baby steps” included the 1 3/4-mile Long Bridge Swim event in Sandpoint in 2005 and biked from Seattle to Portland.

At a business event in 2006, she was told that she looked like a triathlete. Flattered, she responded that she wasn’t strong enough to run.

So she walked the final leg of her first event. Now she’s going full-bore, competing in full Ironmans, including the Coeur d’Alene event in 2014.

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