Athlete Interview: Andrea Brusuelas

Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your day job? Family?

I’m wife to a super supportive husband (never have to hide triathlon receipts) and mom to three wicked awesome kids aged 20, 14, and 6 (surprise!) I work as a freelance Graphic Artist. I love the freedom of freelancing because it allows me plenty of time to balance family, work, and training. I also love to paint when I have extra time – oils are my medium of choice. I’ve recently taken my love for art and triathlon and started a cycling and triathlon apparel line for women – Archangel Sports. It’s in the very early stages and I can’t wait to see where it goes. And because I love a challenge, a few years back, I returned to school to pursue another degree in the totally unrelated field of Biochemistry. I’m so close to being done; I need to get back and finish!

When was your first triathlon and how did you get started?

My first triathlon was a local sprint in Spring of 2014. Everyone knows that running is the gateway drug to triathlon, right? As a former ballerina, I was taking a ballet class here and there, but it wasn’t enough to keep me in shape so I decided to try running. From there, began biking around town with my husband and then later, learned to swim. Met a great group of people who talked me into signing up for my first 70.3 not too long after that first sprint. We’ve been suffering together ever since.

What have you enjoyed most about triathlons and endurance sports?

I love the training; long sessions in particular. A long, hot summer ride, nap and a juicy dinner steak are my idea of a near perfect day. Perfection, if you’re wondering, includes cannoli for dessert! I also enjoy the racing. The buzz of energy on race morning and the nervous butterflies are a little bit of a rush. I still have a small fear of the swim and frankly, I think I like it… There’s also something about the longer distances – the visceral nature of the grind is exciting.

What are some obstacles you’ve encountered along the way?

I would not consider myself a natural athlete. I didn’t play any traditional sports as a child or young adult. Just 20 years of ballet. I’ve been told that I look graceful when I run and swim but really that’s just code for “slow.” This is something I’m always working on. Over the past year I spent more time in the gym hoping to create more strength and power.

Another much larger obstacle was an ongoing, debilitating pain in my left leg over the last couple of years. No amount of rest or strengthening or therapy would lessen or change the pain. It was like my leg was in a vice grip and my muscles felt like solid concrete. I was slowly losing the power gains I had made on the bike and I got to the point where I could only run for two minutes at a time before my foot was dead and the pain was unbearable.

Tell me about your injury? How did you finally get diagnosed and how was the surgery?

I consulted with a local orthopedic doctor just after the onset of the pain. We spent a year and a half going through a number of tests and therapies to no avail. Earlier this year, he finally called to say that he just didn’t know what else to do and felt we had exhausted all possibilities. Because “no” is just not in my vocabulary, I continued research on my own until I found a forum thread I had missed in the past on Iliac Artery Endofibrosis. My symptoms matched those mentioned very closely so I called my ortho and told him I needed a referral to a vascular surgeon. A post-exercise Ankle Brachial Index and CT Angiogram confirmed that I had IAE in both my left and right legs. From there, I was fortunate to connect with one of the world’s leading experts on the injury and had 12” of artery replaced – from the iliac artery to the femoral artery just 4 weeks ago.

What do you want to share with other athletes about this condition?

It turns out that this injury goes largely undiagnosed. Because athletes are considered to be in good health, vascular issues are generally overlooked. It’s also important to note that while this is a blockage of the artery, it is not due to normal plaque-related blockages. My understanding is that IAE can occur when the inguinal ligament rubs against the iliac artery in a repetitive fashion, causing irritation and inflammation and eventually a thickening and hardening of the intimal tissue of the artery. The artery can also sometimes kink in spots due to the hardening. In my case, the artery was so badly damaged that barely a pinhole size opening was allowing blood through to my left leg. I would suggest to any athlete that if they’re losing power on the bike and speed on the run and the legs feel unbearably cramped, heavy, and numb in the absence of any other injuries, consider talking with your physician about the possibility of IAE. Without intervention, it will eventually lead to the end of cycling and running.

What are your goals post surgery?

First is careful recovery. It’s difficult for an active person to be still after such an invasive surgery. Now that blood is actually flowing into my leg, I hope to spend the summer gaining some speed and power on my bike and run! I’m looking forward to a late season 70.3 with one of my crazy, sweet friends.

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