Laurel Wassner: A True Warrior’s Journey
We catch up with the amazing Laurel Wassner (USA) who is not only taking on the epic racing at Super League Ottawa this weekend, but is also a cancer survivor. Laurel will be racing at the weekend against a tough field of pros, along with her twin sister Rebeccah (older by five seconds!). If this isn’t inspiration enough to go after what you want in life, we don’t know what is!
Hey Laurel, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Your story is super inspiring. So tell us, when did you first realise you wanted to be a triathlete?
I first realized I wanted to be a triathlete while I was in university at George Washington University in Washington, DC. I was a distance freestyler and also had some natural running talent. I would have joined the cross-country team, but I was on a swimming scholarship and it was an intense program, so I tried to do some running on the side.
Your twin sister, Rebeccah, is also a triathlete – has there always been a lot of sibling rivalry between you? Who is more competitive?
Yes, we have been competing against each other since we were six years old on the local swim team. We have always been fairly evenly matched. My sister is more competitive than me, she has this rare will to win that is seen in only a few of the best athletes. I have more of the will to survive!
When you were diagnosed with cancer in 1998 at the age of 23, how did you deal with the news?
It was a shocker. I thought I was healthy, and I was trying to become a triathlete while working in New York City. I had done one local triathlon in Brooklyn (a roller blade!!, bike, run) and had a steel bike that I was riding in the city. I had dreams of becoming a pro triathlete but those were totally put on hold when I was diagnosed. I didn’t do another serious workout or race for years.
What would you say was your biggest source of inspiration for fighting cancer when going through treatment?
My biggest source of inspiration was my sister. She signed up for her first marathon, the London Marathon, after I was diagnosed. She did all her hard training sessions on days when I had treatment. So, we sort of went through the tough parts together. Her marathon was the weekend after my final treatment and I flew to London against doctor’s orders to watch her race and finish as the top American.
Amazing stuff, and you went onto big things. How did it feel to win your first race after successfully overcoming cancer?
It was an unbelievable feeling. I had been a pro for a couple of years, got a bunch of podiums and I was starting to beat some triathlon legends… but I was always in the same race as my sister who I could never beat. She was injured and couldn’t race a legendary race in the state where we are from, The Columbia Triathlon. She had won the previous four years running and the pressure was on to keep the title in the family. I ran into first place with about a mile to go and could barely keep it together to the finish line. My entire family was there to greet me at the finish.
I hadn’t talked about my story much at that point so not too many people knew what I had gone through. But my family knew, and they were probably happier than me. It was my first pro win, but I also made history by becoming the first cancer survivor to win a pro triathlon. Soon after this win, Nike called to see if I wanted to be sponsored and feature in an ad campaign along with other cancer survivors. With that I was able to share my story on a global level and inspire so many people along the way, which is really important to me.
Wow, that is truly inspirational! Ok so let’s talk Super League. What made you want to race the Super League triathlon?
I have been following the Super League races online and they just look like so much fun. When I saw a post about the Ottawa race, I emailed my sister and said… let’s try this! She was up for the challenge, so we registered and dusted off our road bikes. It might seem odd for a three-time iron-distance champion to do Super League, but I like to keep things interesting and I like challenge myself. Plus, I could not pass up the opportunity to try Super League so close to home.
What are your feelings on the format compared to other triathlons? Do you think you’ll find it harder having the mixed disciplines?
I have done 13 Ironmans and two super sprints. Both super sprints have been harder than the Ironmans!! The intensity is like nothing else. But it is over quickly and a few hours later you forget the pain. Unlike Ironman, which makes you sore for days!
Everyone is talking about the golden ticket! Do you have your eyes on qualifying for the championship?
That would be amazing! The Super League Championship races are the future of triathlon. The organization is top notch, the format is exciting and everything from the uniforms to the media coverage to the amazing exotic and scenic locations seems very professional. It is also a race format that respects that triathlon is about three sports and you have to be good at all three to do well. I would love to be a part of that. I have some very steep competition in this race and know what I am up against so it will be tough to qualify. But, I will be out there fighting for every spot!
How much would it mean to you to qualify?
It would be huge! It would mean that I could compete among the best athletes in triathlon and travel the world. It would be an incredible achievement!
Controversial, but your sister Rebeccah is also racing. Do you think might beat her?!
That is so tough to say. Right now, I can’t keep up with her in training in swim, bike or run. But, I somehow have a way of raising my game on race day and always find myself close to her. In our last race together, the ITU Aquathlon World Champs, we finished 10 seconds apart!
It’s like you’re born to stay seconds apart from each other! Do you have any other future objectives, dreams or ambitions for your triathlon career?
I would like to stand on the podium with my sister again. She’s taken a bunch of years off to have her kids and we haven’t both been fit at the same time in a long time. So, dreaming of us standing together on a podium keeps me motivated.
We really hope we see you on the podium this weekend Laurel. Thanks again for your time and we wish you and Rebeccah all the best of luck in Ottawa!
Thank you! We can’t wait to be a part of the race.
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