An ankle injury would cripple most ordinary athletes, but not national triathlete Claire Adorna who triumphed on the international stage with one. That’s risky business, though, and now that she’s had it fixed, she’s regrouped and set her sights on her biggest possible goal—the Olympics

By Romeo Moran | Photos by Miguel Nacianceno

Claire Adorna is getting better in more ways than one.

The 25-year-old torpedo in the national team’s arsenal has a few more years to achieve her dream of becoming an Olympian triathlete, so everything she does at this point contributes to attaining her and every athlete’s ultimate goal. She’s got a chance to make it to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. After earning gold at the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, there should, in theory, be no reason to doubt she can make it.

Except for one little thing. The wrench in the gears, so to speak.

Ardent followers of the local triathlon scene know that that her SEA Games gold medal was won on an injured foot. It’s a tear in the peroneal tendon; specifically, an injury on her left ankle, on the strings of tissue in the foot that stabilize and protect it from sprains. It’s an injury she’s had since her swimming days, a curious pain that never really debilitated her. Swimming is a low impact sport, so she’s never had a pressing reason to have it checked. In fact, she even thought it a lucky charm that attributed to her great performances.

It may very well be that. With high-impact running and cycling now added to the mix of her training, an existing foot injury is bound to get worse. Still, it appeared like it never bothered her. Adorna, in fact, kept competing and raking in achievements. She finished third in the 2014 New Taipei ASTC triathlon, her first international competition.

The 25-year-old torpedo in the national team’s arsenal has a few more years to achieve her dream of becoming an Olympian triathlete, so everything she does at this point contributes to attaining her and every athlete’s ultimate goal

Three months before the SEA Games, she finally decided to have her foot checked. Despite the nagging pain in her ankle, Adorna chose to represent. The SEA Games and Asian Games were rare opportunities she couldn’t afford to miss. To manage her condition, she eased up on her training so she could still tear up—no pun intended—come race day.

“[In] the end, it boiled down to her really wanting to go for it,” remarked coach Ani de Leon-Brown, one of Adorna’s mentors and confidants. “She and I both knew it would be a real struggle to get her to the starting line fit enough to win. But she decided she’d tough it out and wait till after the SEA Games to get the surgery done. I wanted her to be successful in the long run, but we had this pressing goal which was immediate.” After all was said and done, Adorna’s grit and determination brought her and the country some much-needed glory.

After the battle, the soldiers must rest. Adorna, most of all, deserved it. When we meet her on one of the last few scorching-hot days of the year, she can neither run nor ride her bike. She had just undergone an operation to fix the tear on her ankle a few weeks back, and now she’s wearing a medical boot to help her foot heal. The tall, morena beauty is full of energy; obviously, her condition hasn’t stopped her from making another appearance on Multisport.

“Conservatively, the doctors said six months recovery, but that’s for people who don’t do sports,” Adorna shares. “Siyempre, ‘yung mga active, mas mabilis sila mag-heal sa mga operation nila. For me, my doctor said I can swim this week, but without kicking first, with pull buoy lang. And I can do cycling after one month, then running after two. Medyo matagal ‘yung run, pero at least wala ka nang pain na iniisip. Kasi long-term din naman ‘yung goal namin, eh.”

“I was not sure what the extent of [the injury] was until we had a proper MRI,” said Brown. “I just knew that every time we would increase the load or intensity, her feet would swell up like a tennis ball. It made us rethink our strategies for her training over and over again. We had to be creative.”

Recovery doesn’t just mean sitting at home and sleeping the pain away; active recovery involves engaging your body at a low intensity to help it recover. Of course, Adorna has to work extra hard as her lower half is pretty much indisposed.

“I have to do upper-body workouts pa rin kasi hindi rin ako pwedeng magpabaya. So when I go back, I don’t [have] to start from zero. At least kahit papaano, malakas na ‘yung upper body strength ko. I have rehab at Sante Impact three times a week. We’re doing strengthening and conditioning. Every Tuesday and Thursday, and on weekends, I do my own strength exercises. I do core, I do sit-ups, I do weights.”

Does this scare her and batter her confidence? Of course. More than affecting athletes physically, an injury haunts then mentally and emotionally. Being sidelined due to an injury is perhaps more painful than the injury itself, there’s also that unshakable fear of the injury never healing or popping up again.

“If I’m going to represent the country, I have to give everything I’ve got,” she says. “Not just 90 percent or 80 percent because I’m feeling some pain, ‘di ba?” And she’s right. Anything less than the best isn’t enough, especially for dreams as lofty as hers

That’s just the way sports is, especially one as grueling and challenging as triathlon. When athletes have to put their body on the line, when they push it to its limits, one way or another something will give. It’s just a matter then of managing training and performance wisely. “Most triathletes have such a hard time grasping the concept of recovery,” says Brown. “Knowing when to regroup is part and parcel of being a smart and successful athlete.”

As she slowly but surely recovers, Adorna looks at the positive side of this situation. She’s getting better, which means she can finally give her 100 percent again. “If I’m going to represent the country, I have to give everything I’ve got,” she says. “Not just 90 percent or 80 percent because I’m feeling some pain, ‘di ba?” And she’s right. Anything less than the best isn’t enough, especially for dreams as lofty as hers.