Growing up in different continents – America and Europe – it was the ultimate test of endurance that brought triathletes Sherry and Mic Mueller-Coons together. Meeting at Ironman Kona in 2008, they made the decision to start a new life in Australia, with Sherry purchasing Back2Health in 2009.
Transforming the one-person chiropractic clinic into a sports health and wellness centre with 12 employees; we caught up with the couple that – while no longer on the podium – still live and breathe all things active through their clients. A great read for those who are curious about anything Ironman – Mic and Sherry have done 45 between them, with Sherry taking it to the professional level.
“The energy is unlike anywhere else in the world in Kona and it rockets to a whole different level when the triathletes come to town. It is magical, daunting, exciting, humbling, and the biggest thrill and privilege of your life, all wrapped into one emotion” – Sherry Mueller-Coons
Born and raised in California, I began my athletic career as a swimmer at the age of seven. I competed at a senior national level until 1980 when the USA boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Disillusioned, I left swimming a couple of years later. It was then that I became obsessed with the idea of running a marathon.
Many of the athletes I trained with at the gym were running marathons and they didn’t die afterwards (my parents were sure running marathons would kill me). One of my marathon friends asked me to come out and run with her group and three months later I was on the start line of the San Francisco Marathon. I ran a 3:31 pretty easily, but – as a result of my quick mileage increase – injuries started to crop up. I was able to race one more marathon in Toronto before injury sidelined me. The only thing I could do was swim.
Back to the pool I went after more than seven years out of the water. There I met the husband of the friend who ran marathons. He was a triathlete. After much persuading he finally convinced me to try a triathlon, pointing out my swim and run were pretty good; I just need to get a bike and ride. I entered the Danskin Women’s Sprint Tri three weeks later and went out and purchased a bike the next week. I had only two weeks to get ready and I had never done 20km on a road bike before.
“In one moment both my professional career as a chiropractor and the sport I loved were taken away from me” – Sherry Mueller-Coons
A couple of days before the race I went out and rode 20km just to make sure I could do it. Mission accomplished and I was somewhat confident come race day. I finished in the top five that day and qualified for Nationals. What a surprise! I had four weeks to get ready and had to race double the distance (today’s Olympic Distance Triathlon). A week before the race I rode 40km just to make sure I could do it. I ended up in the top 10 at Nationals and I was hooked. I wondered how I would do if I actually trained properly.
That was 1990. I never looked back. I went on to race to the top of the World Amateur ranks in short course racing and, on a whim, I entered a Half Ironman (70.3) race in Ventura California in 1992; again with no proper longer distance training. Despite two flat tyres that day, unknowingly, I had still won my age group and qualified for the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. When they asked if I wanted the slot to Hawaii I could not stop shaking my head yes. It was uncontrollable.
Hawaii was two months away and I had not even done proper Half Ironman training; much less training for a full Ironman. With the help of my coach and the support of a great training partner I was standing on the biggest stage in triathlon in the world just eight weeks later.
I had never ridden 180km before and, no, I did not try to ride that far the week before the race just to see if I could do it.
Not only did I not know if I could ride that far, I still wasn’t sure I would be able to run off the bike, much less a full marathon. The only thing I felt OK about was the swim. My coach told me as long as I properly hydrated and fuelled that I would be fine, and that even my mum (not an athlete at all) could complete the Ironman if she ate and drank properly. Hmmm – that was interesting. He told me about the athletes he had coached who had finished with broken ankles and the like. I was still overwhelmed, but knew I would give it everything just to finish.
“Biomechanics, posture, training, rest, nutrition, rehab and strength training are all mandatory components to achieve great sports health and wellness. We understand these components from first hand experience” – Sherry Mueller-Coons
Well, finish I did in sixth place, just one spot off the podium. I cried when I finished, elated, relieved, and utterly exhausted. My mum and dad were there, plus my oldest brother and his wife. Never before had all of my family come to support me – it meant so much. For the first time, I think I impressed both my dad and my brother. Coming down Ali’i Drive into the finish area, my sister-in-law was holding out a balloon with a real rose inside of it. I have no idea how I saw her through all the people lining the street, but I did and ran to the barricade to grab the balloon which I held crossing the finish line.
However, my excitement was a little short-lived as 45 minutes after finishing I got really sick. Off to medical I went and five IV bags later I was finally released close to midnight. My poor family. Well, I was hooked and could not wait to do it all again, but with some proper training.
I continued to race as an amateur and turned pro at the end of 1993, racing all around the world in all distances from Olympic to Ironman. In my pro Ironman debut in New Zealand I finished seventh, but had raced behind the World Record holder in second until the late stages of the run. It earned my some nice sponsors and the cover of Cycling New Zealand Magazine. I was stoked.
Hawaii 1995 was my last pro race. I had acute renal failure during the race. I did not realise what bad shape I was in and still finished the race, limping to the line and collapsing as I crossed. Back to medical I went but this time it was much more serious. It took me more than four years to recover from that. I was not able to do much training, let alone race.
In 1999 I came back gently as an age grouper again. By 2000 I was back racing in Hawaii and all over the world again at National and World Championship level in all distances. By 2004 I was the number one ranked amateur in the world covering all distances. I had just turned 40. I won the USA Nationals at varying distances a number of times, and I was second at both the Olympic World Championships in Portugal and Hawaii Ironman World Championships in the same year. Yes, all the while working full time. My best times are 2:03 for the Olympic, 4:19 for the Half Ironman, and 9:47 for the Ironman Distance. I have completed 16 Ironmans, with 10 of them in Hawaii.
People ask me what it’s like to compete in the Ironman World Championships:
There’s nothing else like the Ironman in Hawaii. It is the Super Bowl of triathlon and the best-of-the-best in the world are all there and in the best shape of their lives. There are lots of head games that go on pre-race. The energy is unlike anywhere else in the world in Kona and it rockets to a whole different level when the triathletes come to town. It is magical, daunting, exciting, humbling, and the biggest thrill and privilege of your life, all wrapped into one emotion.
Madame Pele, the Fire God of Hawaii, can either love you or smack you down on the day. She takes no prisoners. If you go in cocky she is sure to deal you a difficult hand on the day. I get goose bumps every time I think of race day – especially the finish line. It almost always brings me to tears.
Plus Hawaii holds a very special place for Mic and I.
It’s where we met in 2008 and where we raced together in 2010 for our honeymoon. Our wedding rings were made by Kona Jewellers in the shape of the Ironman logo… between us we have lots of Ironman bling!
I was always already living in Australia by that stage – I moved here from Maui in 2007. After racing in Australia in the early 90s and early 2000 I fell in love with it and the people. After five years in Hawaii I was not getting any younger and Australia was almost impossible to migrate to after the age of 45. So I sold my practice in Maui and made the move – I have always had gypsy blood in me so it seemed the natural thing to do.
I started in Sydney where my two collie dogs and Siamese cat had to be in quarantine for 30 days. Once they were sprung from jail, we moved to Port Macquarie and then Coffs Harbour where I set up a small private practice. Due to visa reasons and wanting to stay in Australia long term, I was forced to take a government-sponsored visa with either Queensland or South Australia.
As I was already freezing in Coffs, so I choose Queensland. The requirement was that I needed to live and work in rural QLD. When Mic and I met, I was already living in Australia so we endured a long distance commuting relationship from Switzerland to Australia until July 2010 when Mic moved here full time. We did discuss the option of living in Switzerland but we both love the hot tropical weather and outdoor lifestyle too much, so the decision was easy.
As Mic prepared to move full time to Australia, I started looking for a practice that could support us both while he found his feet here.
I saw an ad with ‘Back2Health Chiropractic’ for sale in Townsville and was intrigued.
Mic urged me to fly up from Coffs to have a look. I had been to Cairns before, but Townsville was never on my map. I came for the first time in May and the weather was beautiful. So warm compared to Coffs. The practice was nothing special at the time, but I knew I could turn it into something good.
I went back to Coffs for a think and flew up once more at the end of June. I found an awesome house in Pallarenda that I fell in love with and decided to buy the practice and the house. I went back to Coffs to pack for Switzerland where I was going to spend a month with Mic. We followed the Tour de France in a motorhome with our bikes. It was a dream trip for both of us and we had an amazing time. The Tour was everything we had dreamed it to be and better! I was a bit busy on holiday trying to wrap up all the legal stuff purchasing the house and practice. Challenging at times.
I went home to Coffs a month later and within four weeks I had packed up my belongings and the animals and drove to Townsville to begin a new chapter. Mic would not end up moving full time for another 10 months.
At that stage, the practice was just myself and a receptionist: I was insanely busy seeing over 125 patients a week – my way with long, thorough appointments, lots of soft tissue work and rehab – the days of a three-minute crack and sending them on their way were over. Oh, and I started to train for my first Ironman again in over two-and-a-half years: Mic and I were to be married the next year and our plans were for a wedding and honeymoon in Kona (including racing Ironman again) the following year so I had to race and win an Ironman to qualify to race again. We did that with success.
But things didn’t work out so well in 2013:
I told Mic I wanted to go back to Hawaii and try to have a go for the 50-54 age group world record and stand back on the podium in Hawaii one more time. He agreed to support me and give it a go to qualify again so we could race together. After overcoming two autoimmune disease diagnoses and recovering from severe adrenal fatigue in 2011, I had been slowly regaining my fitness and was starting to come into good form.
We had lots on our calendar in the lead-up to Hawaii and it started with Yeppoon Half Ironman in August 2013. At 49, I was having the race of my old life: Coming off the bike in third place overall in the pro field. I was stoked as I had not been in the mix of the pro women for many years and I was almost 50! However, 7km into the run everything started cramping, and then I was stopped dead in my tracks. To cut a long story short, I dropped out of the race only later to find I had completely avulsed all three hamstring tendons off the ischial tuberosity in the pelvis and it was pulling the sciatic nerve with it.
In one moment both my professional career as a chiropractor and the sport I loved were taken away from me. I had surgery in October 2014 to reattach the hamstring and neurolyse the sciatic nerve. I have three titanium anchors in my pelvis that the hamstring is attached to. I am still rehabilitating from the injury and surgery. Full recovery takes up to 12 months at which I will only ever regain about 85% of my original strength and function.
I am now able to swim and can bike up to 60km. Running is still a challenge for me but I have made it to a 5min jog/1min walk for up to 50 minutes. A fair cry from what I used to do.
My next big goal is to be able to run a 10km again easily and pain-free before my 12-month anniversary of surgery. I am toying with the idea of the sprint tri in the Townsville Triathlon Festival, but still lack the confidence that I won’t reinjure myself. I will decide last minute, but if I do participate, it will only be low-key just to complete the distance, no racing. I will most likely still need to walk/jog the run portion.
As an athlete you are so much more in tune with your body. You approach injuries differently. Biomechanics, posture, training, rest, nutrition, rehab and strength training are all mandatory components to achieve great sports health and wellness. We understand these components from first hand experience, which has meant we’ve been able to help fellow athletes, but anyone else two from young children to people in their 90s.
The clinic has grown from myself and one receptionist to a team of 12:
It’s now comprised of three chiropractors, three massage therapists, one physiotherapist, one exercise physiologist, three reception staff (one doubling as our yoga practitioner) and, most recently, a much-needed practice manager.
As we became much more than just a chiropractic office we felt we needed to update our name to reflect all that we do; hence the Back2Health360 Sports Health and Wellness. We are able to help our patients from every angle, 360 degrees around. While the majority of patients come to us initially for some type of injury treatment, our long term goal for the patient is to continue care long after the injury is resolved so that they can maintain the good health they have achieved, hence the wellness.
It’s so much easier for everyone to work towards prevention rather than always chasing treatment for injuries. We teach the importance of ongoing wellness care to maintain optimal health. With so many different types of practitioners under one roof – there’s really something for everybody.
“‘Mic the Racer’ was born and I started training in a club. By the end of that summer I had lost 15kg and finished my first race on the podium” – Mic Mueller-Coons
I started bicycle racing when I was 10 years old. One day my dad came home with a used race bike (the bike was way too big for me) and told me to make myself ready to compete in a children’s road race that afternoon. I was obese and unfit, but nevertheless I accepted the challenge and went racing. I got overlapped several times but I finished the race – last, but I finished. ‘Mic the Racer’ was born and I started training in a club. By the end of that summer I had lost 15kg and finished my first race on the podium.
I continued my cycling career, won some races and discovered my love for track cycling and reached elite level participating in Six-day Racing (a track cycling race that lasts six days).
But an accident at work, where I fell 7m from a building and broke several bones and was temporarily paralysed, stopped my cycling career suddenly. After spending a long time in hospital and rehab, I started getting back in shape swimming, running and, of course, cycling.
Six months after my accident in August 1987 I did my first Olympic Distance Triathlon finishing in the first 50 of over 400 participants. To my surprise I was in the first 10 after swimming and cycling, but not being the best runner, and probably having pushed too hard on the bike, I paid the price on the run. But ‘Mic the Triathlete’ was born.
From there on, I was hooked and started to read everything about the sport.
I got to meet Markus Kupferschmid who was the first Swiss triathlete to finish third at the Ironman in Hawaii. He showed me a video of his race and I was intrigued. Would I ever be good enough to go and race there?
In 1993 I did my first long distance event: The Transswiss Triathlon. It was an epic race that saw the athletes crossing Switzerland from south to the north starting with a 3.5km swim in the Lago di Locarno, a gruelling 225km ride through the Swiss Alps then finishing up with a 53km Run from Zurich to Schaffhausen. This was a truly hard race and it took me 17 hours to finish it the first time.
I continued to race the TransSwiss Tri and other triathlons from sprint to Half Ironman distances, plus 10km to marathon distance runs. I started to realise that the longer distances where more my thing. I raced my first Ironman in 1995 where I finished in just shy of 11 hours – not great but not bad for the first Ironman.
From there on it was my big dream to achieve my ultimate goal: to race in Hawaii. However, my times where improving, but my run was the discipline letting me down most of the time.
At Ironman Roth in Germany in 2003 it was the first time I finally ran the marathon under four hours and finished my first Ironman in less than 10 hours.
Unluckily, I still had missed the Hawaii qualification by one place. So 2004 had to be my year: I had great base, building training in the spring, and in July I was ready to race Ironman Austria in Klagenfurt. But one week prior to the race I rolled my ankle badly. Not knowing better, I still did try to race. I had a great swim and bike, but on the run my ankle gave me so much grief that I had to stop running after 10km. I walked the remaining 32km.
Very disappointed, I went see a doctor who suggested injecting cortisone. That’s what we did, and two weeks after Austria I started at the Ironman Switzerland in Zurich. Again, I had a great swim and bike, but this time my run was over after just 1km. I was in too much pain even to walk.
Back to the doctor and after X-rays and a MRI it was clear that I needed a ligament reconstruction and they had to extract a small piece of bone that was broken off and was causing all the pain.
So the rest of the year was dedicated to recovering from surgery and intense rehabilitation.
By spring I was ready to train and I had decided to go to the US and race Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach. This time the body was ready, but a lot of other things went wrong that day: First my transition bag wasn’t to be found after the swim (three minutes lost), then I broke the bike shoe closing strap, which meant I had to race with an open shoe (so I could only press the pedal down, but no lifting was possible).
Then I got penalised by a referee with a six-minute time penalty for something I still don’t know today. But the race finishes at the end, right? Well even a 3:30 marathon didn’t help – the last slot went away to the athlete who placed in front of me.
In Ironman racing one thing is important: You never give up. So I hired a German coach and trained the hardest I ever had done before. That November in 2006 I knew, no matter what, I WOULD QUALIFY for Kona at the Ironman Florida. And indeed my dream came true and I had an almost perfect day. I was going to the World Championships in Kona in October 2007.
Kona was everything and more than I was expecting.
The ‘who’s who’ in triathlon was there. Everywhere athletes were training. It was hard to not do the same, so I did. I did so much that on race day I was too tired to have a great Kona debut. It was a hard day at the office but I still finished in 10:40 as a daylight finisher. That feeling of finally finishing that race I wanted to do for so many years was incredible. I crossed the line in tears and with goose bumps everywhere: magic.
Of course I needed to go back again. In 2008 I raced again after qualifying at Ironman Lanzarote (one of the hardest Ironman races of the world). It wasn’t a great race for me for various reasons, but one life-changing thing happened: I met the women of my life, Sherry.
I now have 29 Ironmans under my belt and three World Championships. My best Championship time was in 2010 finishing in 9.57. My goal was always to finish Hawaii under the illusive 10-hour mark. That same year I had my Ironman PB at IM European Championship in Frankfurt finishing just a little over 9.30 on a 5km longer bike course. Unlike Sherry, I never raced as pro: Only an age grouper.
Sherry and I are both going back to Kona this year; this time with our health practitioner hats on.
I’ll be massaging the athletes pre and post event and Sherry will be part of the sports med team in the Active Release Technique tent treating the athletes and then working the finish line on race day as triage into the medical tent. It’s unfortunately a place she knows well!
Sherry will be completing two more Advanced ART modules in Kona: Complex Protocols and Biomechanics. She has been an ART provider since the mid 90s and it is the cornerstone of our treatment protocols at Back2Health360. We are the only practice in North Queensland that has qualified ART practitioners on staff (check out www.activerelease.com for more info on the technique).
Meanwhile, closer to home, we are continuing to support local sporting clubs. We have always been involved in the sports community, including the Townsville Tri Club and Townsville Roadrunners, and this year Back2Health360 Sports Health and Wellness has taken on a new challenge in sponsoring a local AFL team – The Hermit Park Tigers.
“That feeling of finally finishing that race I wanted to do for so many years was incredible. I crossed the line in tears and with goose bumps everywhere: magic” – Mic Mueller-Coons
Our physio, Chenaye, leads our sports med team for the Tigers. We have no less than four practitioners at every game that do everything from sports first aid, athlete treatments for injury and performance, taping and more. It has been great fun being involved with such a passionate group of athletes. They are so appreciative of our time. I don’t believe any other amateur team has ever had such comprehensive sports medicine on the field before.
You can meet the Back2Health360 team, win prizes and access free advice and seminars at the official opening of the open-air functional rehab studio on Saturday, June 6 and Thursday, June 11 – worth checking out as the only of its kind in Queensland.
Learn what functional rehab is all about with the experts while enjoying light refreshments, tours, demonstrations by qualified practitioners, and the opportunity to attend free classes and seminars including back-specific bootcamps, posture clinics, nutrition and weight loss and runner-specific sessions.