Bardsley back on track after health crisis

By Vicki Woolley

Lifelong runner’s fitness played crucial part in recognising his heart was in trouble and then recovering from surgery.
Sean Bardsley says his competitiveness is tempered these days with a newfound respect for life-long athletes.  Photo / XTERRA Wellington Trail Running
Sean Bardsley says his competitiveness is tempered these days with a newfound respect for life-long athletes. Photo / XTERRA Wellington Trail Running

When Sean Bardsley lines up for XTERRA West Wind tomorrow, he has more reason than most to feel a little nervous - and every reason to savour the moment.

The 47-year-old Wellingtonian is lucky to be on the start line at all, saved only by his incredible fitness and timely heart surgery.

A runner since childhood, Bardsley was preparing for his first ultramarathon in late 2015 when his performance took a rapid downturn.

"In the space of a week, I went from running 30km pretty easily to struggling to run at all. I was short of breath and had chest pains - I knew something pretty major was going on."

Bardsley's doctor sent him to a cardiologist. Three days after the visit, he underwent surgery to have a stent inserted into an artery that was almost completely blocked.

"It was a big shock - I always thought that being fit equalled being healthy. I hadn't counted on genetics," Bardsley says.

He speaks candidly about his brush with mortality.

"Occasionally people say 'told you running was bad for you'. If anything, running saved my life.

"The only reason I didn't have heart failure is because I noticed the symptoms early. If I hadn't been active, I may not even have noticed that I was feeling so bad."

Bardsley is back in his running shoes and has returned to regular training and racing but with a little caution.

"I've lost some confidence," he admits. "I'm a bit wary that my body might let me down. I had a 30km training run a few weeks ago and was uncomfortable going on my own. A couple of the Wellington Marathon Clinic guys came along. It turned out to be a good run and gave me a bit more confidence."

One person who understands what Bardsley is going through is Wellington XTERRA Series Event Director Mike 'Tomo' Thomason. He is delighted to welcome Bardsley to tomorrow's event - the third in the 2016 series.

"I have been there myself. I know what it's like to come back from heart surgery. It's a long road back. For me, exercise was a massive part of that.

"You don't go a day without thinking about it, but getting back out there plays a huge part in the recovery process - not just physically, but in rebuilding confidence."

XTERRA West Wind is unique as it is the only time runners can access Meridian's Makara turbine area and Thomason is excited about the venue.

"Of all the XTERRA courses, West Wind has the greatest variety of terrain. One minute, you are on rugged Southern coastal path staring across Cook Strait at the South Island.

"The next you are deep in a native bush valley; the next you are running along a ridge beneath thundering wind turbines - it's not like any other course."

Bardsley is sure to lap up every inch of the spectacle. These days, he has enormous respect and appreciation for quality of life. He recalls the early weeks post-surgery as he awaited clearance to run again.

"I was a bit dark on it, watching the rest of my training group get ready for the ultramarathon that I was supposed to be running. Then I realised I am lucky to just be here.

"My first trail run back was very emotional. I thought 'this is amazing, this is what I love - and I am back out here'. It was just mind-blowing."

"I used to be really competitive - inspired by young guys running fast times - and that part still exists.

"But now I'm equally inspired by the older people who are still out there, running and orienteering and giving it everything. I want to be one of those old guys in his 80s still crossing finish lines."


XTERRA Wellington West Wind
What: Short, medium, long course options
When: Tomorrow
Where: Makara Wind Farm, Wellington
For more information: www.xterrawellington.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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