Shannon Hegarty’s track to the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games is a perilous one.
The 30-year-old inline skater has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition in which the heart rate drastically increases after standing up from a sitting position or vice versa.
Though the diagnosis means she has to take extra precautions — she constantly monitors her heart rate and adjusts her medication accordingly — Hegarty is determined not to let it slow her down.
“I would rather be happy and do the sport that I love and be with the people that I love than to play it safe,” she said. “There’s no question whether I would stop inline skating because it’s something I feel passionate about.”
Her determination has helped her skate to the top of her sport in Canada. At the 2014 Canadian Outdoor Championships in Toronto in June, Hegarty finished second, just ahead of her friend, teammate and competitor Morgane Echardour.
Now her goal is to qualify for the Pan Am Games.
“The top two girls go,” Hegarty said.
The top spot will probably go to short track speed skater Valérie Maltais, she said. Maltais represented Canada on ice at the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.
“It will be myself and Morgane, my best friend, for second place,” Hegarty said. “But if she makes it, I will be happy for her and if I make it, she will be happy for me.”
To make sure she’s at the top of her game, Hegarty lifts heavy weights at the gym four times a week and rides the bike for one–two continuous hours on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s in addition to her on-track training.
An intense regimen like this can have serious consequences even for athletes with no health concerns like POTS, said Zack Goodman, director and kinesiologist at Kinesofit.
“Overtraining and fatigue can be an athlete’s worst enemy,” he said. “In addition stress can be an issue with athletes.
“Sometimes the anxiety to perform and to win can have an overwhelming feeling for athletes that will have negative implications on athletic performance.”
Stress is a factor when she races, Hegarty said, but Echardour helps her maintain her calm.
There are other challenges too, said Peter Doucet, inline coach, athlete and leader of the Toronto Inline Skating Club, where Hegarty and Echardour both train. Among those challenges, he said, are the facilities they train at in Mississauga.
“The floor we are skating on is pretty slippery,” Doucet said. “When we get to a competition the floors tend be to really sticky, which is a complete different type of pressure on the legs and complete different type of fatigue.”
Doucet, himself a top inline skater, finished third overall in the senior men’s 15-kilometre elimination event at the Canadian Championships in June. Before that he competed at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Brazil.
Now, though, he’s focussed on how he and the Canadian team will do at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
“I hope, and I expect in certain cases, we should be in the lead pack,” Doucet said. “And when you’re in the lead pack, at that point anything can happen.”