On July 4th Normann Stadler enjoyed the one year anniversary of heart surgery that saved his life.
By Kevin Mackinnon
They gave him two days warning. Two days to prepare for the dramatic heart surgery that would ultimately save his life. Earlier this week Normann Stadler woke up and breathed a huge sigh of relief – is was exactly a year since the surgery and he was still alive.
The surgery was to fix an aneurysm in his heart that was twice as big as normal – if an aortic aneurysm can have any degree of normalcy. The doctors figure that were he not a super-fit athlete, he probably wouldn’t have made it.
If the surgery was tough, the rehab afterwards was brutal. Even most beginner triathletes can push 50 watts on the bike. Can you imagine what it’s like when you once managed over 300 for 180 km of riding, and suddenly you can’t even make a sixth of that? Stadler was ordered not to lift over 10 pounds. He’d go grocery shopping and have to walk behind his pregnant wife as she carried the shopping bags to the car. When his two-year-old son was crying, he couldn’t ever pick him up and give him a hug.
All of which has likely helped bring a new perspective on life for the only German with two Ironman World Championship titles. For years it seemed like Stadler was tormented by the pressure that comes when you win in Kona. Here in Germany, that pressure seems to ramp exponentially. While Stadler always took the time to do an interview, I certainly felt for him as I saw the expectations placed upon him wherever he raced.
All that’s gone now. The guy is very relaxed, and very happy.
“July 4 was one year after surgery and I’m really happy to be here,” he said during a quick interview at the press conference here in Frankfurt. “I’m healthy again – I can swim, bike and run. I have two healthy kids at home. I’m working with Marino (Vanhoenacker). Everything is fine.”
The perspective is well deserved. While most remember Stadler for his back and forth trash talking with Chris McCormack during those Kona-winning years, its often forgotten that Stadler had been racing for a long time before he won in Kona. In the years since he was also somewhat of a mentor and supporter for other up-and-coming athletes through his work on the now defunct Commerzbank team.
“I was on the national team from 1988 – I’ve been racing as a professional from then until last year, so I had 23 or 24 great years. I won duathlon worlds, I won Hawaii twice, Australia twice, I won Frankfurt. It was fine to stop. I don’t like how I stopped because of the surgery, but I’m here, I’m healthy, I’m still in the sport and I love what I do now.”
It’s actually great to see how at peace Stadler is these days. I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like during those years when he won in Kona. If anyone deserves to give himself a break and a pat on the back for a great career, it’s him.
Just before we started talking yesterday, an athlete asked Stadler if he would pose for a picture with him. “You’re the reason I do triathlons,” the man said. “You inspired me.”
I asked Stadler what it felt like to have people say things like that. “It’s an honor – I’m so proud,” he said, pointing out that it means much more now that he has time to reflect on his triathlon career.
My guess is that we haven’t seen the last of Normann Stadler in the triathlon world, and that’s a really good thing. It’s great not only for his wife and two children that he pulled through last year, it’s great for us in the Ironman world.
Everything IS fine, Normann. Great to have you here.
You can reach Kevin Mackinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org