Remember the iconic Garrett Morris skit from Saturday Night Live when he says, “Baseball’s been berry, berry good to me?” Well that’s how I feel about triathlon.
When I began doing triathlons at the age of 42, I had the distinction of having never won an award for sports. At my first sprint triathlon, I came in last in my age group - and loved it! At my second triathlon, I won a trophy and was hooked. Initially, I was a terrible swimmer and, at best, an average biker and runner. Although not an outstanding athlete, I discovered through hard work and perseverance, I could achieve success in triathlon. Most importantly, for me triathlon revealed a new world – a world where I developed priceless friendships, enjoyed travel, acquired the confidence of an athlete, and modeled a healthy lifestyle.
Since 2000, triathlon has provided me with opportunities and travel previously unimaginable. While I know that my experiences pale compared to those of many of my St. Louis peers, for a late blooming athlete, the ride has been amazing. I’ve participated in over 125 triathlons, as well as adventure races, gravel races, trail runs, halves & marathons. I’ve raced locally, throughout the Midwest, and in Boston, Myrtle Beach, Birmingham, Texas, Florida, Canada, Austria, and France. Through the many training hours, road trips, shared hotel rooms, and highs and lows, I have formed friendships that will last a lifetime. As a triathlete, I became an athlete role model to my kids, and discarded some of my longstanding insecurities. I’ve grown stronger from grueling workouts and races and I’ve experienced the exhilaration of a perfect race day or cycling 40 mph down a mountain road.
One of the rewards I’ve experienced through triathlon arose from an encounter at Steelhead Triathlon in 2008, when I struck up a conversation with a young French family at the race. We stayed in touch and last year the family visited us in St. Louis. During their visit, we learned that our friend created and directs an aquathlon (swim/run), the “Aquathlon Lac du Bourget” in Aix-les-Bains. The Lake of Bourget is the largest freshwater lake in France, nestled among mountains, in Savoy, a region that has been a resort area since the time of Romans and a vacation destination for royalty. At the invitation of my friends, on July 14, 2017, my husband and I participated in the aquathlon as a relay team, with me as the swimmer. On race morning, the athletes were loaded onto six tour boats and were dropped off on the far side of the lake, with the goal to swim across to the transition area. Over the years, my swimming has improved, but I still get anxious when I’m in the middle of a rough lake with a 1.8 -mile swim ahead of me. On this day, I managed to keep my nerves in check by marveling over the fact that I was swimming across a gorgeous lake, in the mountains, in France - and event that would have been inconceivable 18 years earlier. Though neither my swim nor my husband’s run were remarkable and we finished amongst the last of the relay teams, we were elated to race in this exceptional setting amongst friends and claimed for ourselves the title of the First Place American Relay Team.
All athletes eventually face a time when they can’t do what they previously did, whether due to the gradual decline of age or from traumatic injuries or health issues. Sometimes we can make a comeback and sometimes it’s time to wrap it up. I’ve had doctors holding me together for a few years now, but last month was told definitively that I could no longer run. In the scheme of world issues, this news is miniscule; it doesn’t even qualify as one of the top crises of my life. Nevertheless, it is still a change and loss. Even though the door to triathlon may have closed for me, the door to coaching opened to a whole new realm of fulfillment. As an Evolve coach, I continue to grow through new challenges and am rewarded daily with the friendship, feedback, and progress of athletes. As I contemplate adjustments to my athletic activities and lifestyle and morph from participant to coach (although I am excited to take on some aqua bikes), I am, above all, cognizant of how fortunate I’ve been to be able to participate in this sport and all it has given me. And I gratefully remember that triathlon has been berry, berry good to me … and will continue to be!