By Alix Shutello
Lisa Buohler, the number 1 ranked female duathlete in the US, went out on her bike one day and didn’t come back. After being hit by an SUV traveling 60 MPH, Buohler woke up in the hospital with multiple spinal fractures, a lacerated liver, a fractured sternum, fractures in her foot, hand and knee, and a lung contusion. She had been literally stitched and stapled together – but despite this, Buohler asked when she could get up to go to the World Championships, only a few days away.
Lisa Buohler was a “gym rat”, but in 2006, at the age of 36, she ran a local 4-mile race. She had wondered if she could even run 4 miles without stopping; but not only did she finish the race, she came in first in her age group with a time of 30:27 (she would go on to drop that time to a personal best of 24:46).
Buohler began running more regularly and jumped into as many 5Ks as she could fit in her schedule, then started increasing the distance to the half marathon. By age 40, she had become an Elite Masters runner (because of the number times she placed at the top of her age group). From there, Buohler advanced to the marathon, and qualified for Boston after running her first marathon in Athens, Greece in November 2010.
Discovering the Duathlon
In 2009, competitive cyclist Angela King invited Buohler to start cycling. She went to the Trek store and purchased her first TT bike, a Guru Crono.
“My thoughts were to do a little cross training through the summer of 2009 and spice things up a bit,” she said.
In December, Buohler competed in her first sprint duathlon, in Pasco County, FL. She had so much fun, she went home and signed up for the Xxtera Caloosahatchee duathlon on the very next day. She finished as the first female in both events.
Next, she signed up for a series of duathlons around Florida and on April 15, 2010, Buohler traveled to Richmond, VA to compete in the National Duathlon Championships to try to qualify for Team USA.
It wasn’t meant to be, for a flat tire slowed her down and she didn’t make the qualifying time.
Despite not qualifying for Team USA that summer, 2010 had been an epic year for Buohler. She competed in 38 races: 8 half marathons, 10 duathlons, a 15K, a 10k, a 4-miler, a 5-miler, 15 x 5K’s and her first marathon in Athens, Greece, where she qualified for Boston. Buohler hit all her goals, which included winning the Multirace Publix Duathlon series championship, receiving her Road Runners of America running Coach certification, getting a sub 17.30 5K, PR in the half marathon, and running a full marathon in Greece and qualifying for Boston. What a year indeed.
Becoming a US Citizen
In 2011, Buohler’s English citizenship would create some controversy, as she was winning American races but wasn’t an American.
In the first couple of months of the year, Buohler competed in footraces of varying lengths almost every weekend, including the Masters Half Marathon Championships in Melbourne, FL in February. In May, Buohler competed in the USAT National Duathlon Championships in Tucson, AZ. By this time, she was the number 1 ranked female in the US. She didn’t need any more qualifying races to earn her a spot on Team USA, but because she was not officially an American citizen, there were rumblings about her status on any US team.
“I had pre-qualified for Worlds through USAT rankings, and I was still determined to go out to Nationals in Arizona to do what I had intended to do out in Virginia last year, to place top with a podium finish and qualify to be on Team USA and compete in Spain. I was almost not eligible for awards because of my British citizenship, which was suddenly an issue. So, in June 2011, I became a US citizen,” she explained.
Buohler’s plan for the fall of 2011 was to compete in the ITU Duathlon World Championships in Gijon, Spain, and 6 weeks later compete in the NYC Marathon. But in early September, just days before she was to leave for in the World Championships, Buohler’s life changed.
“I was ready to leave for Spain in just two days for the Team USA, to compete against some of the top duathletes of the world. I had been training hard and consistently since the National Championships in Arizona,” Buohler described on her blog post of September 14, 2011, just 9 days after her devastating accident.
“During a 20-mile training ride I was struck from behind by an SUV going approximately 60 mph. The motor vehicle impacted my left glute, which took a laceration and severe bruising that is now lumps and knots of old blood and damaged nerves. My lumbar spine fractured in three places and my thoracic fractured in two, fractured sacrum, liver laceration, lung contusion and sternum fracture, bruising of the ribs and chest, a couple of staples to cover my exposed elbow cartilage, stitches to a deep penetrating laceration to my left calf, avulsion fracture of the foot and knee, torn shoulder, road rash, and a pretty bad head bruise,” she reported.
In total, Buohler’s recovery included a week in the hospital and three months in a back brace.
Once Buohler was out of her brace, she started training slowly. By now it was the winter of 2011 and the Disney Half Marathon was looming in the near future. This was a race she’d run for the past 5 years, and despite having pain when she inhaled deeply (due to the sternum fracture and lung bruising), in January 2012 she ran and finished the race.
And all was fine – until she couldn’t breathe.
“Then I was there. I had made it!! I finished! The beautiful Donald medal commemorating his 15 years of running was placed around my neck. Almost immediately after I stopped, I went to take a deep breath, but there was no air! I couldn’t breathe; it was like my lungs had decided to close up. My first thought was, What have I done? “
Buohler walked toward the medical tent and as she walked, her breathing improved and slowly became normal.
“How embarrassing that would have been to tell the medical crew that I was in ICU with five broken vertebrae and a lacerated liver, fractured sternum, knee foot, etc., 14 weeks ago, and I just jogged the half marathon and now I can’t breathe,” she said.
Buohler made it past this scare, enough so that she ran the 2012 Boston Marathon this April in a little over 3:30, averaging 8-minute miles.
“I was so close to qualifying again I could have pushed a little harder, but I wanted to take it easy,” she said.
Just seven months after a devastating accident, Buohler ran the Boston marathon with a top time in her age group and after having only run a couple of 6 mile runs before the race. She has been training again for the duathlon and looks forward to racing with Team USA in France; and, six weeks later – as she had planned last year before her tragic accident, Buohler will be running the NYC marathon.