I have left out a few holes in my story…. You may have heard bits and pieces of my journey… but today, I want to share something different. I want to share a time period of my life that directed me to my passion for a Triathlon…. Yes, a PASSION for a Triathlon.
You see, back in 2001, I graduated high school with a scholarship to Montana State University, in Bozeman Montana. This scholarship was my door to get out of the place that I thought was a trap. The place that I felt was holding me back from what I truly could become. I was an athlete, and I was a competitive one… like really competitive. I wanted to win… My passion was Track and Field.
Throughout high school I enjoyed all the sports I played in. I loved running the court in basketball and beating everyone down…. it was like a rush! And for those who knew me and watched me play… they knew I would sacrifice my body, literally, to save a ball from going out of bounds….
Volleyball was really fun for me. I could jump and I dove for the ball… I was still not a technically savvy at it, but I worked my butt off to stay in great shape, and I always wanted to win when we ran our 17’s (running drill that SUCKED)….
My senior year, I even dabbled in Cross Country Ski racing. I was battling a foot injury that year and cross country skiing helped me get into really good shape but it was also easier on my foot. It was a great prep for my senior year track season…..
Track…. oh yes, my favorite….. I loved the team sports as I do feel they created a really good educational environment for me… however, I fell in love with Track. My freshman year I could run but had a terribly long stride…. it made me fast but it was not good on my feet…. However, that long stride and the fact that I really like lifting weights too, gave me the ability to jump….. My freshman year I broke our schools long jump record, and proceed to break my own record every year after. It’s been 19 years and that record still holds…. So you can see how I may have found my ‘niche’ sport.
I could also hurdle…. here is a wonderful photo of me on the cover of our local newspaper that highlights my hurdle form…. It was not the best form… straight leg and literally giving me the perfect setup to destroy my feet when I landed…. but it worked for me and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I just kept doing it (oh the things we do when we don’t know that we are doing them wrong)….
I ran in the 4×400 relay… I was not as fast on shorter distances, but I could run a 400…. but then I was being watched by my PE teacher, and she said “you should try the 800…”. So I did, and it was awesome….. I remember my first 800 race. I had no idea what I was doing… I won because of stupidity. I ran so hard that first 400 then it took everything to figure out how to run the 2nd 400. I still won and beat two gals that always won… so I was hooked. I still didn’t know how to run the race. My strategy was to just push hard till I ran out of gas…. It worked.
I was being looked at by some colleges and universities. I actually fell in love with a small private college in North Dakota, but I ended up going to MSU Bozeman instead. I just wanted to compete and I knew that Bozeman was closer for my parents to come watch me, and it was an easier drive than from the smaller private school.
However, I was in for a huge wake up call when I arrived in Bozeman. My high school track success was literally shattered when I arrived. I realized that I wasn’t that good. I was in a whole new league and I almost instantly regretted the decision. But, I was stuck…my school was paid for…so I had to stay.
I remember the first time I was asked to lose weight…. now, just a brief body lesson here…., I am not overweight, and have never been. I am 5’ 6” and was pretty darn muscular and when I was a Freshman in college, I was a strong and happy girl…. but when my coach asked me to lose weight….. my life changed forever.
I stayed in Bozeman. Doing a lot of destructive things to keep the weight off and to lose more. I used performance enhancing drugs from GNC (some nasty crap they used to put on the shelves 20 year ago), laxatives to get everything out of body… and literally purged everything I put into my body. My body was hurting…. However, I was losing weight and my 800 times were getting faster.
My strength was literally gone by the time I hit my sophomore year. I had spent the entire summer biking to and from work and literally eating nothing. I was light but my body hurt. My joints hurt, my insides hurt, literally everything hurt. And my strength loss made me not jump or hurdle well at all.
We started training again for the indoor track season and I asked my coach (the one who asked me to lose weight…) if I could do less…if I could take a break. He said no. So I called my mom and asked if she would come pick me up.
I dropped out of school…..
Now, slight fast forward because literally, I could write a book on the next 15 years but I am going to speed through (and write more on this later).
From 2003 till 2018
* Destructive eating disorder until 2006
* Unhealthy pregnancies… multiple miscarrigages…. 1 boy via Cesarean (born early and small whom also was my saving grace to life) 1 girl, Successful VBAC(born on time and a blessing because it was really hard to get pregnant with her)
* Endometriosis surgery (this crap is everywhere in my abdomen….)
* Ectopic Pregnancy surgery (not fun)
* Methotrexate injections to dissolve a pregnancy because the doctor couldn’t find it (this really really sucked)
* Staff infections – 3 days in hospital post wrist surgery that was suppose to go well…
* Major flare of what was supposedly ‘mono’ however, the doctor had no clue and I was treated with multiple drugs but ended up just changing my diet a bit and that allowed for some relief.
* Major digestive issues from every single food I ate….
* Major flare #5, or so, hands shaking with normal use, major nerve pain and literally my body shutting down…..8 months of doctor visits to then randomly run into a doctor that ‘figured it out’ and has helped me get on the road to recovery….
ALL THE WHILE, Unable to regularly exercise and move forward because my body hurt too freaking bad! I did run a 5k and 10k in there and it was AMAZING…. from a competitive standpoint. It hurt me so terribly bad to run those races, but I did them because I thought it would make me feel better. Unfortunately, it just led to depression because I couldn’t compete anymore…..
Now, Here I am. 2020… 19 years after I graduated High School and 17 years after I dropped out of College and my ‘thoughts’ never competing again just kept creeping in….
In 2018, I had a major flair. (The last bullet point from above), it was terrible. I literally could not walk around the block with my kids. When we finally figured out what was wrong (I have an autoimmune disease called Sjögren’s Syndrome, that was likely triggered by the many issues I had in my past, and it is really hard to diagnose…).
This diagnosis started me on the path to recovery. It took until December of 2018 before I could physically do anything. I started small and literally just did those cheesy ‘walking’ workouts in the living room. I was motivated because we were going to go on a trip to Hawaii at the beginning of 2019 and I figured I should try to get a little healthier…..
Now fast forward….. Spring of 2019, I had gone from 15 minute walking workouts to 30 minute low intensity workouts 3 and 4 days a week….. I decided to try to ride my bike to work…. I had been able to ride my bike to work randomly 2 summers prior, but it was never consistent and it was only a handful of times, but I knew my bike made my body feel good so I thought I would try it one day in June… then I tried it another day…. then I did it 3 days in a week….
I even decided to run the Herron 5k that spring and it was a blast… I was hurting a bit, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the prior 10k I had attempted on the same course…. so I was slowly improving.
By July of 2019, I had decided I wanted to do the Glacier Challenge. It is a multi sport event and includes running, cycling, mountain biking, kayak and canoe…. I recruited a few people, and my boss, and we had ourselves a relay team.
Funny part about this is that I didn’t have a road bike for this race…. I only had my crossover bike. The crossover bike is great for around town, but I guess it was not fit for the Glacier Challenge… So my boss rented me a road bike…. I had never ridden a road bike. The day before the event I did a warm up ride and immediately fell in love…
Day of the race…. I had no idea what I was doing.. My boss just said, put it in the low gear and go (first part of the road bike race was uphill, go figure).
Our team wasn’t spectacular but we finished and it was fun. I did the 2 cycling portions (20 miles total) and ended with the 5k run. My legs were SHOT on that 5k run…. but after that event, I decided that I needed a REAL BIKE! So I bought a road bike….
2019 was my year to figure out the bike…. I had a few flat tires, tired days, but some really good experiences. My friend Jess Cerra gave me some great pointers. She is a local celebrity around Northwest Montana, and just retired from Pro Cycling! Plus she is a wonderful chef and has developed some amazing nutritional bars called JoJe Bars. Her story on how she ‘accidentally’ got into cycling, but found out that she was good and loved it, really made me realize that maybe I could do it too (not be a Pro, but do something that really wasn’t ‘planned’ out).
That summer, I ended up riding the 83 mile loop around Lake Kookanusa and I decided that if I can do THAT, with little to no training, then maybe I could do more.
Fall of 2019, I had read a little bit about Triathlons, and some other cycling races that I could maybe do. The problem is that road cycling isn’t that big around Northwest Montana so finding actual races is hard. There is a lot of mountain biking but not much for road racing… but… there were a few triathlons that were close to home.
Challenge #542 (or something like that) I have NEVER swam in my life…. I doggy paddled a little and sun bathed. That is it….
So the TRI IS OUT, I said… NO WAY. It isn’t possible because I will literally sink!
However, as Fall of 2019 approached, I realized that all this training was putting the fire back inside me. For years I had mentally thought I couldn’t ever compete again, and then, to top it off, my body was fighting me terribly… However, as I was physically starting to get more fit and learning how to deal and manage the excruciating nerve and joint pain and digestive issues that accompanies Sjögren’s Syndrome, I started to realize that maybe I could compete again…. AND, if I did compete, it would be ON MY OWN TERMS! Not some coach who thinks he knows what’s best for me. ON MY OWN TERMS!
Finally, I was doing what I loved again. It has reminded me so much of the passion I had in high school when I really loved running. And when my family was there for me and I just worked hard for me. NOT for anyone else. I was loving working my body again and learning and doing what I LOVE!!!
So….what next? December 2019 came and I decided if I was going to try a TRI, I better see if I can swim. My first lesson was a literal FLOP! The coach asked me to swim down a lane and I about died. Of course I swam with my head above water and literally plowing through the water like a herd of elephants…. So she said I need a few more lessons….. and that’s what I did.
By lesson 3, I could go a full length without dying and could do some intervals. So I said to myself, if my husband gets me a Tri suit, I will go ahead and do it…. so that is what he did. For Christmas, I became the proud owner of a super colorful and snug Tri suit…. No turning back now….
It is now, middle of February, and I have two Triathlons officially booked and registered with 2 more on the books but not registered and a 5th that might happen depending on how Fall goes….
And just like that, I am a Triathlete in Training…..
Training is fun, hard, frustrating, exciting, exhausting, empowering, motivating, defeating, painful, enlightening, stinky, expensive, messing, beautiful, ugly, cold (really cold), hot at times and just plain TOUGH…. but it is sooo sooo good. I have had to adjust my form and watch lots of videos on all 3 disciplines as well as READ A LOT on the sport to train right and eat right (I have numerous digestive issues that make eating complicated unfortunately).
So as I finish this up today, here is the deal…. I lost my inner passion and love for competing when I was a Freshman in college. When my coach put a few words out there that changed my life. It took until I was 36 before I got my passion back…. I don’t want you to take that long…. don’t let those words of others destroy you for years… don’t let it. And if you are in a position where you are not doing what you love, please talk to someone. I didn’t talk to anyone for a long time… I didn’t let people in. It was honestly hard to. My coach, whom I trusted, broke my trust. But I was stuck….or at least I felt that way. You don’t have to be stuck. Talk to a friend, talk to me, talk to anyone that you can share your passions with. We all have to have something exciting to live for. I know you have it in you! It just takes some digging to find it.
I am now 37 (just had my BIRTH-DAY!!!), I feel stronger both mentally and physically that I ever have, and I am constantly looking for ways to make myself a better person so I don’t become the ‘person’ that says that one sentence that will destroy another human’s well being. One sentence can destroy a person…. but at the same time, making a right turn, can change a life, YOUR LIFE, for the good.
I CAN AND I WILL – TRI
And I know you can do it too! Replace my TRI with whatever excites you and GO AFTER IT!!!!