How Laegreid bounced back from mononucleosis
Sturla Holm Laegreid was the revelation of the past season. His composed biathlon and nerves of steel won him seven competitions and uncountable fans around the globe. But the 24-year-old from Norway could only dream about such results some three years ago, when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and his career was put on hold. On World Health Day, we interviewed him to find out more about his story and and what helped him on his way to regaining his fitness.
I thought it wouldn't affect my competition season. But I was wrong.
BiathlonWorld: How did you find out you had mono?
Sturla Holm Laegreid: After the 2017/2018 season I noticed I had a sore throat, but I didn't think much of it. It wasn't until later, when I got a rash over my whole body, that I went to the doctor. She took some tests and concluded I had mono.
BW: How did you first react to the impossibility to train and compete?
SHL: At first, I thought it wouldn't take long, since my symptoms (rash, sore throat) disappeared quite early and I felt fine. It was also in mid to late April that I was diagnosed, so I thought it wouldn't affect my competition season. But I was wrong. The doctor at the federation was very experienced with mono in athletes, and I followed his advice.
We took blood samples every six weeks to watch the mono in my blood. I wasn't allowed to train until the traces of mono was at a safe low level. Since I didn't feel sick, I thought I would be back in training after just a few months. But that wasn't the case, and I was disappointed time after time by not being let back in training. It wasn't until mid-September that I was allowed to "move", as I wouldn't really call it training. But when December came, my blood values was at an acceptable level, and it was safe for me to start again.
BW: Have you ever been afraid not to be able to come back?
SHL: Those were some really tough months, but I told myself I had to focus on something else. Luckily, biathlon is a combination sport, so I could dedicate all my focus to the shooting and therefore stay positive and motivate. But of course, I was worried that I would never come back from mono.
BW: When and how did you decide to use the chance to focus on something you could still work on, like shooting?
SHL: I had a new coach, Ronny Hafsaas, so I wanted to make a good first impression with him. At our first camp, I therefore had shooting sessions on my own when the others had their physical training, and that sort of became the trend. I used my time and focus to improve the one thing I was still able to work on. Through my shooting I was able to stay motivated through the long sickness period.
BW: What was the process like and what did you study/focus on?
SHL: When the training season begun I was aware that I would not get a normal start. So before our first camp I made some big changes on my rifle and my shooting position. I wanted to try out different approaches to shooting, and I got inspiration from watching other top biathletes, especially the shooting position of Martin Fourcade. This became sort of my project during the summer and early autumn. I had a lot of time at hand, and I spent it at the shooting range experimenting with my rifle and shooting position, making valuable experiences and thoughts about shooting that I still benefit from today.
Health is the most important thing you have, take good care of it!
BW: Did you set yourself goals on the road to getting back to full fitness? Or was it impossible due to the tricky nature of mono and therefore it was just "take it day by day"?
SHL: I had to have the day-to-day approach, as I couldn't predict when I would get back in training. But when I was let loose in December, I wanted to be able to do some competitions before the season ended. That was very motivating, and I managed to compete at the end of the season, though my shape was not so good. Still, it was a lot of fun to be "back in business"!
BW: Given your experience, what is a lesson you have learnt and feel like sharing on this world health day?
SHL: What I learnt from my time with mono was not to rush it. Every day without training may feel terrible, and I admit that I was afraid I would not get back to my level. But now I'm very grateful I handled it the way I did. I gave my body time to handle mono without the extra stress of training, and I'm certain that's why I haven't had any repercussions later in life. Health is the most important thing you have, take good care of it!