One of the most common responses I receive when people find out I race triathlons is “How did you get into that?” This is an interesting question to reflect on, because for many people including myself, the journey to triathlon is often a journey of self-discovery, fear conquering, and status quo destroying.
My first memory of falling in love with running was when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Each Wednesday, our PE class became “jogging club” and our class would run or walk laps around a campus trail, and our coaches would record how many laps we finished. At the end of the year, the two students who ran the most laps were rewarded. Winning the competition became my goal, and developing a love for running was an unintended consequence. Around this same time, my mom helped me train for and run my first 5k race (the Ocala Turkey Trot!) and that experience cemented my love for running.
In elementary or middle school, I remember watching a Disney Channel feature on Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a young triathlete who also happens to be a double above-the-knee amputee. You can watch more of Rudy’s incredibly inspiring story here and here. I was immediately intrigued by a triathlon, a combination of swimming, biking, and running. However, while I grew up in Florida and knew how to swim (to have fun or keep myself alive), I didn’t know how to swim for sport. I can remember negative self-talk immediately rearing its head when this desire struck—when I was young and my brother was on the swim team, I had tried to swim a lap to show a coach I was capable of joining, too. I couldn’t keep my face in the water, and when the coach said “maybe next year,” I heard “you can’t swim.” This small incident buried a seed of self-doubt around swimming, so although I was intrigued by triathlon, my brain also told me “you won’t be able to do that, you can’t swim.”
Fast forward a few years and a desire to stay in shape for soccer eventually developed into a cross country and track career in high school, where I was predominantly a middle distance runner. In college, I was a bit burnt out on running and enjoyed time doing anything except running alone around campus. I would run occasionally with friends, but for the most part, running was on the back burner. My freshman year of college, with the help of incredible mentors and people who refused to (explicitly) say “that’s crazy,” I organized a charity bike ride in honor of my friend Miley Duvall, who died in 2008. When Miley was in college, she participated in a long-distance bike ride from the University of Georgia to Jacksonville, FL for the Florida-Georgia football game. To raise money for the Miley Duvall Scholarship Fund, I decided I wanted to ride a bike, with anyone who would join me, from Tallahassee, FL to Gainesville, FL to the Florida-Florida State football game. Step one was to buy a road bike. 😉
With a used Trek road bike purchased from Craigslist, and a small, incredible group of humans who loved me enough to tag along, we biked 160 miles over two days in honor of Miley. This event became one of my biggest focuses during my time in college, and was formative to my leadership development, as well as checking another important box for me on the road to triathlon:
The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I returned home to work a summer internship and started running with a group of old friends and high school runners who were training for the summer. Discouraged by the 15+ pounds I put on during my freshman year of college, I was eager to jump back into exercising and eating well now that I was far, far away from my unlimited meal plan at the dining hall. Running reentered my life in a much more structured way, and working out with the team combined with having more control over my diet that summer resulted in the weight loss I was hoping for. My perfectionist tendencies were feeding off of the new regime, and in addition to losing the weight I gained plus some, I also was running faster than I ever had in my life, high school cross country included! I was excited and eager to continue improving, and slowly, almost imperceptibly even to myself when viewed day to day, I became more and more obsessed with exercising “enough” and eating “not too much.” Unfortunately, my views of “enough” and “not too much” became more and more skewed and unhealthy as time went on, and running became a way to compensate for the limited calories I was affording myself in a day. The next few years of running and dieting for me were deeply compulsive, unhealthy, and obsessive. Towards the middle of my junior year, I knew I needed a change; a change in the way I viewed exercise and fueling myself, and with running now feeling necessary as opposed to fun, I craved something that would reignite my passion for sport. It was about this same time a few friends encouraged me to join the Triathlon Club at FSU.
At first suggestion, I was hesitant about joining the Triathlon Club….I couldn’t swim, remember?! But my friend Devon, who has been a swimmer since birth, was also interested in joining, and told me she could teach me how to stroke swim! As I ran out of excuses, I thought of two of my mentors, Dr. Jillian Volpe White and Dr. Laura Osteen, two extraordinary women who were planning on racing a local triathlon, Tri the Rez, supporting the FSU club team in October of that year. With their support and Devon’s amazing offer, I took the plunge (literally and figuratively!), joined the team, and started taking lessons with Devon. I am forever indebted to Devon’s patience, encouragement, and selflessness to help me learn to swim. With Devon’s help, I gained confidence in the water, and after a few weeks I was participating in actual swim practice with the tri team! The triathlon club was exactly what I needed at the exactly right time. Having the support of a team while I explored a new sport was exciting, and I had friends to workout with which pulled me out of the compulsive isolation of the exercise I had been doing! Paired with meetings with a registered dietitian on campus to teach me how to properly fuel myself and help increase and diversify my food intake, I was starting to feel like my old self again. Triathlon brought me more than I could have ever hoped for, before I even toed the line of my first race.
October 2011 marked my first ever triathlon. All it took was one race and I was hooked. The thrill of the open water swim (a part of the triathlon I now love so much! Who would have imagined), the speed on the bike, and finishing the race with my first love of running….triathlon gave me the opportunity to race again, to set a goal and complete it, to have a TEAM to workout with, to set limits for myself and then crush them! This is why I tri’ed and why I continue to race triathlons—because it gives me the opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and has positively influenced my life in more ways than I can count. I’ve gained friends, I’ve gained confidence, I’ve overcome fears, and I’ve reestablished balance and health…all I needed was the support and encouragement to tri.