Thursday, February 5, 2009

Triathlon, anyone?

(I wrote this as an entry for a magazine contest last year)

Most Important Day of My Life

What is the most important day of my life? How do you narrow down? When I first read the contest title, I had many thoughts going through my mind but one that I immediately fixated on was the mini-triathlon that I had just completed. The next thoughts were of the births of my two young daughters, the first after a two year arduous journey to become pregnant, and then I thought of my wedding day, my Masters degree, and other assorted experiences. I felt guilty that I would choose the triathlon over my beloved husband or daughters. Oh, the guilt that comes with motherhood! In continuing to ponder the question, I determined that one of the reasons that I wanted to participate in the triathlon was to set an example for my young daughters as well as push through some personal issues of my own. I am striving to improve myself and therefore become a better mother, and wife and that is why I have chosen the mini-triathlon as the most important day of my life, thus far.

I would not consider myself an athlete and in that statement, I am not giving myself credit which is something I do quite often. I did play softball in elementary and high school. I had one season of both volleyball and basketball and participated in cheerleading in high school. I had a humiliating experience with softball in high school which involved the coach calling me names like “Happy Moron” and also joking that I was as useful as a milk pail under a bull. These were mortifying moments at practices especially as I first had to stop and think what did he just say? I knew it was an insult but I had to absorb the meaning! In hindsight, I needed help with male role models in my life. Although my father did the best job he knew how and was physically present, he didn’t engage with me on a personal level. And then I had this coach who was also my principal, cracking jokes at my expense. Those comments have followed me and influenced me in subtle ways since then until now. Even though I really liked the sport of softball, I chose not to play my senior year to avoid any more of the same treatment.

I had read about the mini-triathlon in the paper the year before and I thought, I should do that. That thought and a year came and went. That was way too much for me to undertake, and all of the negative thoughts flooded my mind, which I realize are a constant occurrence and one that I am changing. I have two young daughters ages five and two. The older was in Pre-Kindergarten for half a day and the other goes to Mothers Day Out three mornings a week and they are my charges the rest of the time. My husband is a surgeon and has a very demanding and time consuming schedule. He is very hands on when he is home but there is no absolute timetable of when he will be home. One day, I was talking to the room mother of my older daughter’s class and realized she was training for the Rocketchix mini-triathlon and it was coming up in less than two months. I started thinking again, is this a possibility? Could I do this, did I have enough time to train, and did I have it in me? Could I wear a bathing suit in front of a large group of people and actually swim? My swim stroke lessons are from high school PE instruction and are not pretty and involve lots of backstroke. I had swum some laps when I was pregnant with my first daughter but that was five years ago. I did have a bike and enjoyed leisurely jaunts on occasion and I had been jogging for a few minutes at a time since Christmas. I began to think of all of the times I had pushed myself physically. One of those times was when I was dating my husband and we backpacked in the Smoky Mountains for a few days. At the beginning of the hike, after strapping on the full and heavy back pack all I could think was, “What have I gotten myself into?” It was hard and I had to push through all of the negative thoughts in my head but I still remember how magnificent and beautiful it was when we reached our first crest. I also remember the emotional and physical high of pushing through my body’s comfort level and pressing on. Would I want to do that same type of thing but this time with an audience?

One of the other motivating factors to undergo the training for the triathlon was that I turned forty this year. It’s a milestone number and accomplishing this feat before the big 4-0 seemed appealing and appropriate. I know I suffer from the cliché “low self esteem” and have those previously mentioned negative thoughts. I do know I have accomplished many things in my life, but I know that I also worry about what other people think and after some counseling therapy, understand why and am working through those issues. The older I get the less I worry about this and I love, love, love that about getting older. The triathlon was perfect for turning 40 and to help get over worrying about what other people think, i.e. swimsuit.

One morning with both girls in school, and I am still determining if I should do this, I rode around the neighborhood on my bicycle, then jogged a little bit and decided, I could do it, I should do it and I NEEDED to do it. I slapped on an official triathlon style bathing suit in the middle of February with back fat hanging out and started swimming in an indoor pool. The room mom and I started training together when our schedules permitted. Goals are good and I was on a mission. I realized the importance of setting a goal and working towards it. Fear of failure is also an excellent motivator. I continued this path of swimming, biking and jogging based on the training program. Pushing myself out of my usual thirty minutes of treadmill, and a few strength training exercises was fantastic. It felt so good physically and mentally to push hard through laps in the pool, cycling, or jogging and then feeling exhausted but satisfied when it was all over.

I was pretty certain I would finish the triathlon but the anxiety just prior to it was high. The event was hard and at the time seemed not so much fun and right after I thought, I don’t ever need to do this again. The pool portion seemed chaotic as compared to the one time I had attended a swim clinic. The bike ride was in a headwind the entire second half. Upon transitioning from the bike to the run, the party and music had started at the finish line due to staggered start times and I really wanted to go join it instead of hoofing it for the run portion. Yet I am proud that I finished and in a not so shabby time frame and I had not been in the practice of running, swimming or biking until I started training. As the day progressed, I thought well, maybe I could do it again next year and beat my time.
Other people were surprised when they heard of my feat and it was nice to hear that I had inspired a friend to do a triathlon and then another mom in the neighborhood bought a bike and started riding it. Yet the principle that I’ve learned and beginning to live is that what is most important is what I think of myself. I did this for myself and secondly for my daughters. I now know that I am capable of setting goals, working hard, and if that is not an athlete, I’m not sure what is. I am an athlete and I am a Rocketchick! Next year I plan to better my time or I might move on to another goal. In my life, I hope to continue to set goals and work towards them even when there will be surprises and setbacks along the way as there have been in the past. I’ve learned a lot during these forty years and training and completing the triathlon was a major step for me to take and move through some of my fears and is why it is the most important day, thus far.

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