Petaluma Profile: Animal surgeon-athlete keeps busy life in balance
Animal doctor Tim Helms — a resident surgeon at Petaluma’s Central Animal Hospital — loves competing in the annual XTERRA World Championship off-road triathlon in Hawaii. But Helms won’t join the race this year. He only allows himself to compete every other year.
That’s because he has a life to keep in balance.
At the XTERRA, gifted amateurs like Helms compete with professional triathletes from around the world. He relishes the bloody, muddy, gut-wrenching insanity of it — a mile-long ocean swim, a 20-mile mountain bike ride that climbs 3,500 feet, and a 6.5-mile trail run.
“I like the rough stuff,” he says, especially the part that takes place on his bike. “Mountain biking is my passion.”
Helms first qualified for the race in 2012, repeated in 2016, and again in 2018, when he placed 85th among 800 competitors. In the 2018 race, he and the hospital raised $1,500 for the Center for Companion Animal Health at his alma mater, the Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Participating clinics and practitioners honor clients who have recently lost a companion animal by sending the names of client, patient and clinic to the center, along with a donation in their honor.
But there is more to life than training for the big race.
He and his wife, Jessica, have three children to raise — Jackson, 9, Ryder, 6, and Maeanna, 3. And as resident surgeon at the Animal Hospital, he is responsible for patching up an endless parade of broken dogs, cats and other creatures.
Helms specializes in advanced procedures that many veterinary surgeons don’t typically do. For example, he performs a tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy (TPLO), which stabilizes the stifle joint, or rear-leg “knee,” after ruptures of the cranial cruciate ligament (ACL). He also performs medial patella luxation (MPL) to correct popping out of the kneecap.
Helms also helps out Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.
He recently repaired the fractured pelvis of a skunk the nonprofit brought to him.
As for the 2020 championship triathlon, Helms is eager for the challenge, but he is also a realist who understands the limits of a body, whether of man or beast. As he approaches his forties, he knows that time is running out to achieve his singular XTERRA goal — to place in the top 60, an amateur among the pros.
If he is ever going to do it, 2020 is the year.
To stay in shape, Helms runs five or six mornings a week, with distances of six to seven miles, although he occasionally runs up to 25 miles. He often runs with his older dog, Mo, 4, a Jack Russell Terrier-Australian Shepherd mix that Helms calls his “rockstar runner.” The younger dog, Arizona, 1, a female Basenji-pit-bull cross, is a “runner in training.”
Helms also tries to get in a couple of 25-mile mountain bike rides each week, always on trails.
“I don’t want to get run over,” he says.
He favors Trione-Annadel State Park, where Lake Ilsanjo allows him to include a swim session. He also rides in Helen Putnam Regional Park.
Helms grew up near the ocean, took up surfing, and has always been comfortable with ocean swimming. Nonetheless, swimming is the weak link in his triathlon performances.
“I have often finished second because of the swimming stage,” he says, adding, “I like competing. And I like showing my kids that it’s good to have a passion besides doing well in school, that life is more balanced that way.”