Sarah Haskins holds her daughter Caroline on the podium at the Clermont Draft Legal Challenge on March 1, 2014 in Clermont, Florida.
In the past two years, 2008 Olympian Sarah Haskins has had significant ups — and one major down. Considered a favorite to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, she narrowly missed making it to London.
But Haskins finished the 2012 season by winning six of seven triathlons. Then in November 2012, she and husband Nate Kortuem learned that they would be expecting their first child the following summer.
Baby Caroline was born on July 18, 2013.
Now 33, Haskins was back competing in early March, just over six months after Caroline’s birth. In the four triathlons that she has raced this spring — including the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she broke her course record — she is undefeated.
“It’s been better than I expected,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how my body is responding. I can’t complain. Everything is going really well.”
As she begins the second decade of her triathlon career, Haskins’ future is bright. But will it include the Rio 2016 Olympic Games?
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Haskins’ mother likes to joke that her daughter is good at transitions — triathlon humor for the athletes’ quick change between legs of the race. It’s a skill that has propelled Haskins throughout her career.
A former Missouri state high school swimming and cross-country champion, Haskins didn’t know much about cycling when she tried her first triathlon in 2003. But within four years, her weakness had become her strength, and she was one of the top-ranked triathletes in the world.
In 2008, she made the U.S. Olympic Team competing in Beijing, finishing 11th. She was the second American behind Laura Bennett, who finished fourth.
Four years later, Haskins was on track to earn the third and final Olympic berth for the 2012 London Games. Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah Groff had already earned the first two team nominations after finishing in the top 10 at the London ITU World Championship Series in August 2011.
To earn the final spot, Haskins had to finish in the top nine in the ITU World Championship Series race in San Diego on May 10, 2012. And she had to be the top American. It would become a race between Haskins and Bennett for the final spot.
“I was essentially racing one person,” said Haskins. “So I was trying to get breakaways going (on the bike). They didn’t come to fruition, which is racing. It came down to the run.”
Bennett had a great run, pulling ahead of Haskins by 45 seconds to finish third. Haskins finished eighth.
“I was behind her and that was that,” said Haskins.
Rather than wallow in disappointment, Haskins quickly shifted her focus to the rest of her 2012 season. She won six of seven races, including taking the Toyota Cup/Lifetime Fitness Series win in October, which came with keys to a car. Overall, she was really pleased with her season.
A month later, she was transitioning again — this time to pregnancy. Fatigue in her first trimester hit hard. But Haskins was far from sedentary.
She ran through 28 weeks. When regular running became too hard on her hips, she tried running uphill on her treadmill, then transitioned to an elliptical trainer.
In the final months before Caroline was born, Haskins blogged that she was “swimming 3,000-3,500 meters 3-4x week, elliptical machine 30 min 3x week, strength training 2x week, and 60-80 min trainer cycling 3x week,” with daily adjustments depending on how she was feeling.
Haskins also changed her vocabulary, calling it “exercise,” not “training,” and reducing the intensity.
Two weeks after Caroline was born, she began light exercise again. Running came back easier than she expected, as did cycling. Swimming was the hardest. She speculates that her mechanics and technique were thrown off while propelling a larger belly through the water. With looser ligaments after pregnancy, Haskins worked with a physiotherapist to keep her hips aligned and added Pilates to her strength routine.
Haskins resumed hard training in November, and while her training hasn’t changed, her recovery between her two to three workouts a day is more taxing.
“I can’t just do an ice bath or take a nap when I’m tired,” said Haskins. “When I’m not training, I’m taking care of Caroline.”
Packing for races has also changed. Triathlon already requires a lot of gear, and diapers, stroller and other baby accouterments just add to it.
“It’s a carload, that’s for sure,” said Haskins.
But the distraction of parenting has, so far, not slowed down Haskins one step. She won the Clermont PATCO Sprint Triathlon Pan American Cup at home in Clermont, Florida, in early March. Six days later, she won the Sarasota PATCO Sprint Triathlon Pan American Championships in Sarasota, Florida.
After that win, Sarah Groff tweeted, “Truly inspiring stuff, Sarah! Caroline will be so proud of her momma someday!”
On April 27, Haskins won the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, beating the course record that she had set in 2012 by 11 seconds. Helle Frederiksen from Denmark finished second and called Haskins “ever inspirational.”
It was Haskins’ fifth win at St. Anthony’s and 33rd in her career.
“Every woman racing sees @sarahhaskinstri as a total legend,” tweeted Groff. “She's the full package!”
While Haskins’ future is bright, she is uncertain what direction she will go. She prefers non-drafting races, where triathletes cannot draft each other in the cycling leg. But Olympic racing is draft-legal.
She hopes to enter the ITU World Triathlon Chicago race in June — to keep her foot in the door of Olympic distance, draft-legal racing. But she is also interested in trying half-Ironman triathlons, referred to as 70.3s (1.2 mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Olympic and WTS races are about half those distances.
When asked if she is aiming toward the Rio Games in 2016, Haskins is not really sure.
“I just want to have fun this year, stay healthy, and enjoy racing as much as I can somewhat close to home,” she said.
And add chasing a toddler to her already active life.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org and has covered three Olympic Games. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.