Growing up, I was never particularly athletic. I never played team sports and I dreaded my school P.E. classes. I was always the slow kid or one of the last ones picked for the team. I felt like in a world of athletes, I just didn’t belong. That also mirrored much of the rest of my life. I grew up with a German mom in a small town in East Tennessee, where being different in a town full of people who’s grandparents had been best friends left me feeling like an outsider. I just wanted to be like everyone else so I hesitated to do things that I couldn’t master.
Enter the 5th grade, when I was diagnosed with a slight curve in my spine. The doctor suggested swimming to help. My mother, whose sister had been in a brace for scoliosis for years, marched me right down to the local swim team and signed me up. There was one problem because I spent all of my summers overseas, I had never really learned how to swim. So at the age of eleven, I was the kid who could barely swim on the swim team. A few years later, my parents sent me to a swim camp at the University of Tennessee. It was my first sleep-away camp and it was brutal. For 5 days the coach pointed out how terrible I was in the pool but at the same time forced me to work hard to get better. At the end of the week, I got a most improved award and it was the first time I realized that hard work could pay off – it wasn’t all about ‘natural talent’. As I went back to swimming, I started to see myself win more and more medals. In addition, the swim team was a place where I felt accepted and felt like a leader. Eventually, I became an assistant coach before heading off to college.
My next physical challenge came in middle school. My parents thought it would be character building for me to join the track team. I hated running. Hated it. Because I wasn’t good at sprinting, the coach assigned me to the mile. At track meet after track meet, I would come in close to last place in the mile. I decided that I would never be a runner. It’s funny how a decision you make about yourself in middle school can create a battle that you have to fight for the rest of your life.
Then came graduate school. I was broke and needed a way to workout so I started ‘running’. This led to casual running for exercise for several years until I tried my first 5k one summer. I was passed by a lady pushing a stroller and an older man but I finished it and was incredibly proud of myself, even though I knew I’d never be fast. I needed another challenge so I signed up for the thing that seemed impossible a half marathon. I recruited a good friend to run it with me and immediately read everything I could about training. I became our ‘coach’. It was during this time that I started to learn that I do better training in the context of community and that I loved coaching. I wanted to help others achieve what they thought they could never do.
Over the next few years, my life was turned upside down. I moved to New Orleans nine months after Hurricane Katrina hit the city and helped with the rebuilding efforts. I then moved to Mexico City on what was supposed to be a great adventure but turned into a bust that left me exhausted and depressed. I moved back to the States, to Orlando, FL, a place I never wanted to live and ended up there for a year. By the time I moved to Atlanta in 2010, I felt like my life had been chaos for years. I was ready for a new start. I had lost a lot my confidence in the process of some really hurtful situations. I was starting over, alone in a new city with a new career and whole new life.
I had always wanted to do a triathlon but life had been too busy to carve out the time. I decided that now was the time so I googled ‘Triathlon Atlanta” and the Team in Training info meeting for later that week came up. I signed up and was hooked. At the same time, one of my only friends in Atlanta asked if I wanted to join this local boot camp called FitWit with her. Boot camp? I think not but because she was one of my only friends, I signed up. My whole goal in these endeavors was to stay in shape and to make new friends. I didn’t realize that my whole life was about to change.
I loved my first season of triathlon training. There was so much to learn. My swimming skills from childhood were a huge win and I found out that it was okay to be a slow runner in triathlon! It was the perfect match. Weekends were full of training and then lunches with friends. We had lots of social events to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I successfully completed my first race, The Nations Triathlon in Washington, DC. At the end of it, all of my friends were signing up for this race the next year called Ironman. I didn’t really know what it was but I thought it would be fun to keep training with them so I signed up.
Perhaps the biggest changes that were taking place in my mindset were actually at FitWit. I was showing up for a type of workout that I had never done before. Every day was unique and different and we did lots of assessed workouts. It was fun to see my progress. Then I learned about one of the assessed workouts, the mile run. Luckily the first time we ran it, I was blissfully unaware that it was on the daily workout schedule until I showed up. Had I known, I would have opted to sleep in. When the workout was announced, all of my middle school fears came boiling to the surface. I had left this behind years ago and now I was going to have to run a mile in front of a group of adults who I considered my friends?? It sounded like the worst possible fate but since I couldn’t come up with an excuse not to run it, I got out and did it. It wasn’t actually as bad as those days of middle school. It turns out most people dread the mile assessment and the coaches worked hard to make it fun and encouraging.
Fast forward six weeks, I found out that they regularly assess the mile run. I clearly remember deciding to show up for the next assessment even though I wanted to skip it with some lame excuse about a ‘headache’ or something like that. Dreading the workout the entire time, I was shocked to see 2 minutes come off of my time. It was the fastest mile I had ever run. It was also a turning point for me. I realized that day that I had to embrace the things I didn’t want to do in order to see progress in life. It didn’t just apply to a workout, but to my entire life. I was still struggling to establish my new life in a new city and I decided to embrace it instead of wait for life to happen for me.
A few months later I started training for an Ironman. I knew it would be a physical challenge but I never realized what a mental challenge it would be. I trained for most of the 9-month program with an attitude of, ‘I just hope I can finish’. There are a million lessons I can share from that journey but after one particularly rough weekend, I realized that I needed to change that attitude. Like I had embraced that mile run, I needed to embrace the training and approach it with confidence – not just believing I would finish the race but believing I would finish it strong. My whole attitude shifted.
I have no doubt that between my time in FitWit and this turning point in my Ironman training, that my confidence began to be restored. I started to step out and create some new projects. I hired a life coach. I began to shape the life I wanted to live rather than just letting it happen.
I haven’t arrived at my journey. One of the reasons that I come back to endurance sports over and over again is because of the lesssons I learn along the way. Trying to get better takes me to a place of discomfort whereas left to my own in everyday life I gravitate toward comfort and routine. Forcing myself to face the demons takes me to a place where I am stretched and grow. I have so much more to learn and I’m excited to share my journey with you!