Whining is for wimps

Laurel Wassner crushed cancer then started crushing triathlons

If you think “I had too much red wine yesterday so I won’t bother exercising today” is a rock solid excuse then Laurel Wassner will laugh in your face.

Not that she’s rude but she would simply have to shake her head and chuckle.

Having cancer and regular doses of chemotherapy? Now that’s a rock solid excuse for not training or exercising.

However Laurel not only exercised during her battle but she overcame Hodkins Lymphona and went on to become a professional triathlete.

Holy Positive Vibes!

The mindset required to do this is staggering so let’s delve more into Laurel’s story.

As a youngster she was highly active and ran, swim and cycled whenever she could.

By the time she hit university she was such a gun swimmer that she earned a scholarship to join her NCAA swim team (America’s college swimming competition, production line for many an Olympian).

At 23 she moved to New York and threw herself into her training. However, after a run one day she noticed lumps in her neck.

Doctors confirmed the worst – lymphoma.

Laurel’s world came caving in amid a mix of emotions ranging from anger to shock and bewilderment.

She stepped back and pondered her options.

Withdrawing and coming to terms with her condition in private was the most natural path going forward.


The other choice would require a commitment to positivity and enormous grit. The kind of toughness expressed in t-shirt and gym wall logos but rarely actually embraced.

Laurel simply gave her cancer the big middle finger (not that she’s rude) and started to fight back.

Despite regular chemotherapy treatment she maintained her exercise regime albeit at a much lower intensity.

Laurel also adopted an effective philosophy – to take things day by day and gradually build to a bigger goal.

This allowed her to focus her energy on each day, surrounding herself with family and friends and exercising.

Her twin sister Bec was a massive support. When Laurel was diagnosed her sister decided to join the London Marathon, her first.

During Laurel’s toughest days after chemo sessions, Bec would hammer herself with marathon training – sharing the pain and workload.

Bye bye cancer.

After six months Laurel was able to finish her treatment. The next few years were seriously challenging. She’d seen off the worst of her sickness but was still fatigued both mentally and physically.

Mentally she was drained from forcing herself to stay upbeat as well as dealing with the anxiety of becoming sick again.

Sticking to her plan of small steps she then started work as a photo editor. Laurel was able to throw herself into her work and best of all, the publications were fitness – oriented which kept her focused on complete physical recovery.

Her watershed moment came when she and her sisters entered a 5K run. The race had a cancer survivor section.

Can you guess who won?


Laurel was unleashed. She started training and exercising more regularly and harder. She was swimming and cycling again.

Her sister was fast becoming an accomplished triathlete and Laurel thought I’ll have me some of that action.

She resigned from her magazine job to become a professional triathlete. Not as a hobby, but to hand out ass kickings in competition.

In 2010 Laurel became the first cancer survivor to win a professional triathlon at the Columbia Triathlon.

Nike came knocking on her door and featured Laurel in a campaign focusing on cancer survivors and their accomplishments.

She excelled herself in 2014 to become the first cancer survivor to win an Iron length triathlon in Atlantic City.

Triathlons can vary in distances but Iron races are especially tough. A grueling 3.8km swim, 112km ride and cooling down with a leisurely full marathon of 42km. Ouch.

Laurel has since gone on to win the Taiwan Ironman and Israman Ironman (based in Israel).

Her sister Bec remains her greatest mentor and the two train together whenever their busy schedules allow.

Laurel draws on her experience with cancer to not only help her overcome difficulties but to also give inspiration to others who doubt themselves during adversity.

Cancer never had a chance.


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