A potential career ending injury – How pro triathlete Christie Sym is dealing with it

After bursting on to the Ironman scene in 2009 as a relative unknown, out riding and running Ironman great Gina Crawford for second overall at Ironman WA in a time of 9 hours 20 minutes, Christie Sym took the ultimate plunge to become a full time professional athlete. Quitting her full time job as a financial controller and leaving behind a successful book keeping business, Christie packed her bags and left Australia to pursue her new life in the USA.

Ironman-WA-2009-top-femalesMaking a name for herself very quickly on the American circuit with some victories, most notably at Ironman 70.3 Racine, Ironman 70.3 Cancun, a 2nd at Alcatraz Triathlon and 9th at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2011, Christie joined team TBB in March of 2012 under the guidance of Brett Sutton. Her world literally came crashing down in a high speed bike crash in Ironman New York last August, whilst in 3rd place in the final 100m to transition.

Returning home to Sydney Australia, Christie has since been fighting a foot injury which doctors keep reminding could end her career as a professional triathlete; having torn 80% of the plantar fascia off the heel bone and causing a stress fracture of the heel. Out of the sport for almost 12 months now Christie is determined to prove them wrong, and is sharing her experience of battling a chronic injury, the emotional toll this can take on an athlete, and her road back to full health and competition.

Christie winning Racine 70.3 in 2011
Christie winning Racine 70.3 in 2011

In Christie’s words…

After receiving an unexpected amount of feedback following my blogs regarding my battle with my chronic and career threatening foot injury, I’ve decided to continue updating right throughout my rehab and return to racing. For those not up to date with my situation, in a nutshell I’ve been on the sidelines for 12 months with a chronic foot injury. (You can read more in my previous blog “Injuries suck” (www.christiesym.com) if you wish.

This sucks...
This sucks…

I’m going to update regularly, and will include all the nitty gritty details, promising to hide nothing. I’ll include the step-by-step process of the rehabilitation process, my emotions accompanying each step, the little wins and each and every setback along the way. There are a few reasons I’ve decided to share this. Firstly, not many do. The battle that goes with injury is a very private one, not something we like to talk about. I know this as I’ve been there. I also know that whilst there I wanted more than anything to read about others battles, how they had felt, how they dealt with these emotions. I found snippets here and there, but nothing comprehensive.

Obviously I’m well on the way to recovery now, but I’m still a long way from clear. My treatment team have all given me the same number, of 6, being the number of months before my foot will feel and function like “normal”. I’ve gone through the initial denial of the injury, the depression of having to not only miss competitions but also stand down from my career for an extended period of time, the acceptance that this is my situation and I just have to deal with it as best I can. Now I’m dealing with an extended rehabilitation program and attempt to return to professional competition, despite being told it may not be possible. Hopefully through sharing this I can help others in some way fight their own battles, or at least shed some light on the “other side” of living the life of  a professional athlete.


So without further adieu:

1 week ago:

12 months ago I was preparing for Ironman Cour D’Alene. Living in the USA, racing almost every weekend, in good shape, some would say living the dream. The reality was far from this. I was battling what would turn into a career threatening foot injury, and an extended process of repair to a body that was far from healthy. Today, 12 months later, I’m in my home-town of Sydney, Australia. Today I visit my physio for a final assessment before the green light to commence rehabilitation on my left foot and leg, of which has been sporting a moon boot for the past 6 months. I’ve never been so excited about seeing my physio!

6 days ago:

Christie winning Cancun 70.3
Christie winning Cancun 70.3

I’ve just walked out of my physio’s room, and to be completely honest I’m feeling pretty disheartened. I’ve just received the reality check that I need, but it’s very hard to take. When you get good news it’s easy to get excited, but I have to constantly remind myself that my foot is still healing. I’m out of the moon boot, but I’m not in the clear yet. The painful blood platelet injections I’ve been receiving the past few months are not necessarily over yet, and I can’t burn the moon boot just yet. Unfortunately it’s going to be a long road back to full strength, much longer than I’m ready to accept right now. Up and down like a yo-yo, walked in on a high, walked out with my head hanging low. That pretty much sums up how I’m feeling right now.

4 days ago:

Time to test myself a little further today, with 50 minutes on the turbo trainer. Spinning lightly in a low gear, with 5 x 2 minute slightly higher power “efforts”. I use the word effort lightly. A success, I feel almost like an athlete again. Big smiles, a little win today!

3 days ago:

Time to pull out my water running belt. 30 minutes of pure bliss, running in the deep water with no pain and yes I enjoyed every minute. Another little win, I feel like I’m moving forward, finally.

2 days ago:

Almost a week since my reality check at the physio, and I’ve tested my foot a little more with what feels like success. Then, out of the blue, at swimming this morning I feel a stabbing pain that wipes the smile off my face. It only lasted the time it took me to swim 50m, but it was there, right at the site I have been told to monitor closely. I go quiet, get a little worried, and deep down inside fear the message behind this pain. Perhaps something to be noted but largely ignored, although right now it’s enough to put me on alert.

One of the stronger bike riders around from her mountain bike background
One of the stronger bike riders around from her mountain bike background


I’ve taken it easy and am trying to relax, to not think about the foot that has controlled my thoughts for far too long. I’m back to the doctor and physio tomorrow for another check up, and I dread reporting yesterday’s pain, but know I must. Thoughts of another round of injections, to be honest, scare me. The thought of putting that boot back on my foot just plain angers me. Just another reminder I suppose that no matter how much patience I have learned, I must continue to practice and learn more. Tomorrow will reveal more.

A roller coaster of emotions this week in what is just another step of the journey. Please feel free to reply with any comments or questions.

Christie x

You can follow Christie on twitter




Karl Hayes

Head of Rest and Recovery

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.