Determined to compete despite warning

16:00, Feb 27 2014
Karen Russo
GET READY: Karen Russo is gearing up for Ironman this weekend.

Malaria, a husband's cancer and a cycling crash would be more than enough to stop most determined athletes in their tracks.

But not Karen Russo.

The St Johns mother-of-two is putting aside her doctor's warnings to compete in the 30th Ironman New Zealand triathlon on Saturday and raise money for Glendowie's Dove House.

Her husband Nick was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010 and the organisation provided invaluable support as she nursed him back to health and his eventual return to work this year.

Mrs Russo, 36, contracted cerebral malaria on a trip to Africa almost 15 years ago.

She was initially misdiagnosed and her condition deteriorated until she started having seizures and had to be revived multiple times.


She was kept in a coma until she was strong enough to come out of it.

Cerebral malaria can have lasting effects similar to a serious brain injury.

Mrs Russo's memory and fatigue levels are affected so she will be taking her time during the 3.8km swim, 180km bike and full marathon in Taupo on Saturday. It could take her a while to complete - perhaps right up to the 17-hour limit, she says.

"For a long time they didn't expect me to wake up. And then when I did, they didn't expect me to be fit or able to do anything like this, ever."

Mrs Russo hit another roadblock in January during the Auckland Ironman 70.3 competition.

She was knocked off her bike by another rider and ended up in hospital with concussion and neck and shoulder injuries.

"I'm definitely going against the grain doing this but I'm a very determined person. I always have been."

Juggling a busy schedule, two young daughters and a still-recovering husband along with 20 hours of training a week is full on but she's happy to be raising money for a good cause.

Mrs Russo has raised $1500 for Dove House so far.

"It's something I feel like I have to do. I've never liked taking things without giving something back."

Dove House clinical services director Trish Melville says contributions from the community keep the hospice service going.

"Aside from the money it's a wonderful word-of-mouth thing, people raise funds and others hear about what we do."

Go to and search Karen Russo to donate.

East And Bays Courier