Karen Aydelott first raced in the Wildflower Triathlon in 1996 when she was still living in Minneapolis.
“Coming to California in early May when we had ice on the lakes back home was a dream come true,” said Karen, who also remembers the mean sunburn she got on her winter skin.
Karen loved her Wildflower experience and the Central Coast so much that by that fall, he left Minnesota and took a job as the CEO of the San Luis Obispo County YMCA. Training year round enabled Karen to have incredible success in running and triathlon. She completed countless marathons and triathlons and won her age group in Kona in 1997. She was inducted into the Triple Crown Hall of Fame for ultra-distance cycling in 2002, and was recognized as a San Luis Obispo Woman of Distinction in 2001. Through it all, Wildflower remained one of her favorite triathlons, and she competed in it every year, through 2006.
That year, tragedy struck. In June of 2006, while riding her bike to meet friends for a training run, Karen was hit by a distracted and uninsured driver. She was 60 years old.
“The most serious of my injuries was an explosive break to my right ankle and lower leg,” said Karen. “It was pretty bad and my surgeon told me that I would never run again. But I actually chose not to believe him.”
In fact, Karen was so committed to walking and moving again, she signed up for Wildflower in 2007.
“That was not to be,” said Karen. “Instead, I weathered multiple surgeries and a bone infection over the next two years before my right leg was amputated below the knee in 2008.”
She continued to have additional surgeries to deal with infections, but that didn’t stop Karen from racing and competing whenever she could in 70.3 and longer triathlons. She completed the California 70.3 in Oceanside five times and won her age group in 2013, which qualified her for the 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. In 2012, she became the first woman amputee to qualify for Kona in her age group. She has also completed five double centuries since her amputation.
For her incredible courage, she was named the Challenged Athlete Foundation’s (CAF) Inspirational Athlete of the Year in 2012 and was named the Spirit of Judy Flannery Award Winner in 2017.
This year, Karen will be back at the Wildflower Triathlon, not just to race for herself, but to inspire and cheer for those around her, which is also how she lives her life.
“I love the sport,” said Karen. “And I am honored to be able to provide encouragement, motivation, and inspiration to others. As a Coeur Ambassador, a mentor for Cal Poly triathletes, a “guinea pig” for Cal Poly bioengineering students, and above all a CAF athlete, I hope that my racing will encourage and motivate others to follow their dreams. I am convinced that with a smile and determination anything is possible.”
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