Athlete Spotlight - Carrie Tillott

This month we catch up with Carrie. Carrie has been on Team Evolve since 2014. She exemplifies what it means to be an athlete and a member of the team - her passion and drive are contagious. She is a mentor to many. We hope you find her story as inspiring as we do!

    Just a few years ago, I weighed 100 pounds more than I do right now.  I couldn’t swim, didn’t have a bike, and definitely couldn’t run.  Picking up something off the floor or walking the 30 yards from my car to the office left me out of breath and sweaty.  Daily trips to McDonald’s were the norm (or Burger King or Jack in the Box, or sometimes any combination of those at the same time).  At my heaviest, I broke chairs and the biggest size at the plus-size store was getting too small.   Strangers told me what a pretty face I had if only I would lose some weight, and several people even asked when my baby was due (I wasn’t pregnant).  Needless to say, my self-confidence was non-existent.  I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, but didn’t know how to make a real and lasting change.  Diet after diet worked...for a time, but the weight always came back.  I even visited a surgical weight loss center, but knew that surgery wouldn’t work for me in the long run.  



Then one day, opportunity knocked. I decided to drastically change my diet, and at the same time, my employer started a wellness bootcamp after work. At first, I couldn’t do much, but I kept at it.  Walking turned into trotting, which turned into jogging.  I cried with joy when I first ran a mile!  My husband knew how much I loved the Tour de France, but I didn’t think I could ride one of those skinny bikes. When I lost 50 pounds, he bought me my first road bike - a beautiful Trek.  Next came swimming lessons, because it’s hot in St. Louis in August and swimming seemed like something fun to try. It didn’t take me long to put all three activities together - if I could swim, and bike, and jog, why not try a triathlon? My first races were indoor YMCA events in 2010. Soon sprints and Olympic distances followed.  By then, I had lost 100 pounds, and conquering each new challenge filled me with pride and built my self-esteem. I was perfectly happy racing sprints and Olys and thought Iron-distance races were for crazy people.  That changed in 2013 when my beloved mom died of pancreatic cancer. She was my best friend and closest confidant. She fought so bravely for 18 months, through surgeries, and chemo and radiation. She never complained and was always full of sunshine. I wanted to do something big to honor her courage, as well as celebrate my own transformation, so I signed up for Ironman Arizona (2014).


With Ironman looming, I knew I’d need help.  I’d never run a marathon, never biked more than 50 miles, and my longest tri was an Olympic distance.  I had a coach in the past, but it wasn’t a good fit and I was skeptical if coaching would be right for me. Luckily, a friend referred me to Samantha at Evolve.  We met after work one day, and there was an instant connection. When I filled her in on my history and lack of long-distance training, I fearfully asked her “can I do this?” and she responded with one word - “absolutely”.  Her belief in me was (and is) unwavering.


Many people in endurance sports are self coached, so why would I need a coach, what would I get from it? What did I NOT get from my coach?!  Sam is so much more than my coach. She was (and is) my biggest cheerleader, therapist, coach, mentor, and friend.  She helped me with everything from the technical aspects of triathlon, nutrition, pointing me in the right direction for a great bike fit, mental strength, to dealing with my biggest fears and insecurities. I’ve told Sam things that no other person knows! She lifts me up when I’m down and kicks me in the @ss when I need it.  She believes in me when I don’t believe in myself.  It is because of Sam that I am an Ironman today.  


One of the unique aspects of working with Evolve, is that there is a strong team environment. This is part of what the coaches work hard to cultivate in a sport filled all too often with too many egos. 

Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you.  Spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life”. That’s what Evolve is to me.  I am in awe and inspired by my teammates.  Being around such an incredible group of people makes me want to be the best version of myself.  My teammates have seen me at my best and at my very worst.  They remind me daily of the power of the human spirit to overcome obstacles.


In writing this, I was asked to talk about my most memorable race. That has to be Ironman Arizona 2014.  Sam was there, as were many other Evolve athletes.  I could not have survived this day without them.  I’ll never forget the feel of my heart beating in my throat as I jumped into the cold, dark water that morning.  Starting the day with 2000 of my new friends, treading water in anticipation of  the 7am canon. Seeing Sam with encouraging words as I exited the water.  The wall of wind that hit me turning onto the Beeline (winds were steady at 20 mph, with gusts of 30).  Traveling 7mph uphill (and passing people) and 32 downhill. Seeing Sam at the bike turnaround, yelling that I could do it.  My teammate Ryan Metcalf running after me on the bike, screaming words of support.  Racing towards the last bike turn-around, not knowing if I was going to make the time cut-off. Hearing the theme song from Rocky once I passed the turn-around, with just minutes to spare.  Crying as I came flying back into town on the bike, because I made the time cutoff, both happy and sad, cause I made it, but now I had to run a marathon. Seeing a strange man hanging out by the women’s changing tent at T2 and being too tired to care.  Starting my run as the sun set in the desert, turning the landscape pink, red, and orange and feeling utterly at peace in that moment. Coach Lenny, was my saviour, on the run. Coach Nicole saying “how would you feel about increasing your run/walk intervals” (my response was “I wouldn’t feel good about that at all”.  Getting to special needs on the run, freezing cold, but knowing I didn’t have enough time to spare to put on the long-sleeved shirt I had packed.  Sam saying “I need you to move your ass like Jane Fonda up this hill”.  A few miles later, Sam glancing over my shoulder, saying “you can’t walk anymore, you need to run”. It was only later that she told me they were pulling people off the course just behind me.  Hearing the music as I approached the finish line, but not just hearing it - you can feel it resonate through your body, and through the pavement into your feet and legs.  The roar of the crowd as I came down the chute, with just 7 minutes to spare - spectators clapping, screaming, strangers high-fiving me. A man coming towards me out of the dark and into the light. I thought he was going to stop me from finishing, so I swerved to avoid him.  It was Mike Reilly, taking my hand to tell me I’m an Ironman.  My teammate Joe Marcantano’s smiling face at the finish line. He was my catcher.  Sam and the gang, waiting just past the finish line, yelling at Joe to bring to me them for congratulatory hugs. Smiling up at the sky, saying “we did it, mom”.


As I reflect back on that day nearly two years later, I can honestly say that there is nothing like an Ironman finish line, but the truth is that the finish line is a small part of it, what really counts is all the trials, tribulations, and lessons along the way. I learned SO much about myself as I trained for Ironman, and as I continue my triathlon journey, the lessons keep coming. In short here is what I learned:

Nothing is Impossible!  When I first started my journey, I could barely walk up a flight a stairs. Jogging a mile was impossible. Then when I jogged a mile, the thought of running a half-marathon was impossible. But then I did that too.  My first swimming lesson, I took in so much water that I thought swimming a continuous lap would be impossible. And the thought of swimming a mile, much less 2.4, was REALLY impossible.  When I took my first spinning class, it was so hard and my butt hurt so bad that I didn't think I could ever ride a bike. Then I rode 50 miles and wondered how (and why?) could anyone ride 100?  After finishing Ironman, I realize the only limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves.

Don't listen to the voice inside your head or to anyone else who says you can't do [fill in the blank] because you're too [fill in the blank]. Figure out what you want and pursue it with reckless abandon.  Refer to #1 above. 

Progress is not linear. I had so many bad days and countless setbacks along the way. The journey is not about perfection, it's about progress. Don't let setbacks deter you from your goal, and don't discount the smallest success. The smallest step forward will get you there in the end.

Don't get so caught up on the tangibles (weight, pace, distance), that you forget the intangibles - the joy of being able to do amazing things with your body; the celebration of seeing a goal to its completion; the time shared with friends and teammates; the solitary and peaceful sunrises.  These are the moments that will sustain you when the tangibles don't. 

Be humble - you never know who you might be inspiring.  Your "really slow" might be someone else's "really fast". A kind word on and off the course can change the trajectory of someone else's life.

Be grateful - we are so lucky to do what we do!  Enjoy every moment, even the tough lessons, because life can change very quickly.

Never EVER compare yourself to someone else.  Your competition is the person in the mirror. Try to be someone else and you will always be disappointed. Strive for your best self every day and you can never fail.