Her Story: I am a Triathlete

I looked around and found myself running in the middle of a desert. As if I had been transported to another planet. I was surrounded by dead looking plants and an open plain. The sun beat down on my face. My leg muscles were screaming out in pain with every step. They were heavy, as if someone had filled them with concrete. My feet were melting in my black shoes as they pounding down on the hot pavement. I watched the two mile marker pass and thought, ‘Oh, four more miles to go. What the hell am I doing here?’

It was my second day of freshman year. I was headed to class following the crowd of other students. All of the club sports had set up booths trying to recruit the new athletes on campus. I wasn’t very interested. I quickly learned saying you had to get to class was the best excuse to get out of talking to someone. But today, there was one very loud guy that I couldn’t help but notice. “Come sign up for the Triathlon Club!” He kept asking people if they knew how to swim or bike. I tried to not make eye contact, but he targeted me. “Hey come check this out you could do a triathlon!” I was hesitant. I had always wanted to do a triathlon one day, but I wasn’t planning on anytime soon. And why would they have a club for it? The president of the club sat behind the table and explained the different races they had planned for this year and the date for their first meeting. I was skeptical, but I took the flyer and stuffed it in my bag anyways.

Then I suddenly found myself in a room full of people I had never met. Except for the one very loud guy, you couldn’t really forget him. The president stood before us explaining our training, the races, and the equipment we would need to be on the team. A triathlon is made up of three different sections; the swim, bike, and run. I was on my high school swim team for four years, so I had something to work off of. I figured I could teach myself how to bike and run. I was mostly concerned with the distance. The distance of a triathlon varies, depending on the type of race. A sprint triathlon has shorter distances than an Olympic triathlon. At the collegiate level, you can only compete at conference or nationals at the Olympic distance. My first triathlon would be Olympic distance. A 0.93 mi (1.5 km) swim, a 24.8 mi (40 km) bike, and a 6.2 mi (10 km) run. At this point you are welcome to think I am crazy for signing up for this.

Showing off our poke pride in the homecoming parade.

I spent my first semester learning how to be a college student and training. I dragged myself out of bed each morning for running practice. Then, at night, we would swim or bike. I quickly found out many of the people on the team were freshmen, just like me. Through fundraising, practices, and team bonding, I was reminded how much I loved being a part of a team. You have a support system of people behind you who are going through the exact same thing. They will be there to cheer you on in your success or to help you bounce back from failure. While struggling through grueling workouts wasn’t fun, I could count on my team to brighten up my day.

My teammates and I on race day

The morning of race day I watched the sunrise on Lake Havasu, Arizona. I was able to enjoy this moment for about 30 seconds, and then I was overtaken by the sudden urge to throw up. Adrenaline and excitement were coursing through me. This was what I had been working toward for the past 5 months. Now I had to confront the fears that I had pushed to the back of my mind. What if you aren’t ready? Everyone here is so much more athletic than you. You don’t know what you’re doing. Why even try? As an athlete, and as a girl, I have always been my biggest critic. But I didn’t have time to let my worries stop me, because before I knew it we were at the starting line. The siren went off and I dove into the cold lake water.

The beautiful thing about a triathlon is that once you start you can’t stop. When you swim out into open water, you have no other option but to get back to the shore. When you ride your bike on back roads and into neighborhoods, you have to find your way back to where you started. Once you run that far out in the middle of nowhere, you have to get back to the finish line. No matter how long it takes, you have to finish. Your body focuses on each task at hand. Getting air in your lungs, pumping your legs, moving forward. Your body doesn’t have time to worry. The real strength is decided in the mental game. When you have three hours of physical activity you have plenty of time to think. These thoughts will either make you or break you. As I entered the running section of the race, I thought I was dying. Running is still my weakest point in training. I watched as people passed me as I continued at what felt like a snail's pace. I was on the verge of tears, I was so frustrated with myself. “Go faster, what are you doing?” “Why are you so slow?”

I realized beating myself up wasn’t going to help. When we are hard on ourselves we insist on perfection, on winning. We compare ourselves to others and slowly pick out our flaws. There is a difference between this and pushing ourselves to do better. Pushing ourselves comes from a place of love. We accept where we are in our own journey, but we still want to move forward. This was my first race, my chance to prove what I could do. I remembered the first time I finished a 5K at practice. I couldn’t help but smile as I ran toward my team. They were waiting for me, cheering me on. I imagined them waiting at this finish line and was filled with a new energy. I had made it this far, so I kept going.

The team ready to race at Lake Havasu

A lot of people ask, “So how do you win a triathlon?” Winning for me was crossing the finish line. My first triathlon has taught me how to be brave. I’ve grown up in a world obsessed with being perfect. Girls feel pressured to get straight A’s, land the internship, find the dream guy. We are terrified to take a chance because we would rather play it safe than risk failure. No matter how long you take to train and prepare, there will never be a perfect moment. You simply have to be brave enough to try. Competing in a triathlon has reminded me this is just one of my crazy big dreams. My life will contain a multitude of risks just like this one. I know I’ll never be ready, but I’ll keep going anyway. In the race of life, amazing things happen when you leave behind your comfort zone, forget about your fears, and just go.