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Where speed can make the difference

January 7, 2009

Equine veterinarian Dr. Diana Hassel is all about moving fast. She specializes in emergency medicine and surgery and in taking care of horses in the hospital's critical care unit at Colorado State's James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where speed can make the difference between life and death for patients.

Working 10 to 12 hours a day on weekdays and several more hours on weekends when she’s not on call – and as many hours as needed when she is on call – means Hassel is moving at a blur most days.

Biking, running, swimming

But she’s even tougher to keep pace with when she’s training for her 12th Ironman – and her seventh Ironman Hawaii World Championship – triathlon distance race since 2000. She manages to squeeze 14 workouts into each week, getting up at 4:45 a.m. to fit one in before work begins at 7 a.m.

Her typical schedule and weekly totals: four to five runs clocking up to 40 miles, four swims at up to 16,000 yards, three to four bike rides totaling about 200 miles, and two sessions in the weight room.

The Ironman Hawaii World Championship consists of a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, all in one day, “and as fast as humanly possible,” says Hassel, 40, who has placed in the top fi ve of her age group in five of her last six attempts and won in her age group in 2002.

Competitive spirit, but goal is healthy lifestyle

“When I’m not working, almost all of my time is spent swimming, cycling, or running,” she says. “Although I’m competitive, it’s all just for fun and to help me lead a healthy lifestyle. My goal is always to have the best possible race I’m physically capable of. Even if I don’t win a race, I’m ecstatic if I had a great race and know I raced to my potential. It’s just icing on the cake when I do win.

“I gained an interest in triathlons when I became friends with a number of athletes while working as an emergency equine surgeon at U.C. Davis. We swam together with a Master’s swimming group, and the next thing I knew, I had joined the local running club and bought myself a road bike,” says Hassel, who qualifi ed for her first Ironman Hawaii World Championship in 2000 on her fi rst attempt. “My first triathlon was a sprint – a 500-yard swim, 14-mile bike ride, and 3.1-mile run – in October 1997. After that, I was hooked.”

While she races for health, camaraderie, and the love of competition, Hassel’s Ironman Hawaii World Championships race this year had added meaning: She raced in memory of Sue  Robinson, a dear friend and fellow Ironman athlete who died from ovarian cancer two years ago.

Living in Colorado a plus

Hassel also competes in other races, typically an additional six to eight  triathlons of varying distances a year, 12 to 20 local road bike races, and three to four local running races. She’s an avid cyclist and races with Team Rio Grande.

When she’s not racing, she loves to ski in the winter and recently took up a new favorite, skate skiing. She still enjoys downhill skiing, though, or any outdoor activity for that matter. “Can you see why I love living in Colorado?” 

– by Dell Rae Moellenberg

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Winter 2008-2009.