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You are the storm

“You are not surprised at the force of the storm”

-Rainer Maria Rilke

When you hear “professional athlete” where does your mind go? I think of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre to name a few. Maybe if you’re really thinking outside the box you picture Serena Williams, Misty May, Kerri Walsh. But you probably don’t think of Paula Findlay, Lionel Saunders, Chelsea Sodaro. There’s a whole world of professional athletes out there that nobody even knows about because the term professional is overdramatized and overhyped. It’s associated with immense wealth, TV, fame, and spotlights. I think it’s time we change that.

In reality, the truly professional athletes have very little of any of those. They work night and day to gain sponsors, they broker their own deals, they rarely are featured on any national TV stations, and they may never see a single cent in winnings. They compete for the love of the sport, for the brother/sisterhood that comes from racing against the same faces, from growing in the same races. They compete because competition drives them. And it could be you too. There’s nothing magical about becoming a professional triathlete, it comes down to hard work, it comes down to qualifying. You won’t be scouted at age 16 or recruited right out of high school. You’ll train by yourself in your basement on a stationary bike for hours. You’ll run in the rain and the wind. You’ll jump off the side of the road into a ditch to avoid oncoming traffic. You’ll save all your pennies to buy the latest gear, the fastest helmet, the most aerodynamic race suit. You will crawl your way into professionaldom, and you will win.

This is my journey, from a teenage athlete with what some called “too competitive of a personality”, to a collegiate volleyball player, to a stay at home mom who loved fitness, to a part time working mom who loved fitness, to an amateur triathlete who loved to race, to a professional triathlete.

I grew up with a heavy emphasis on sports – school as well, and music, but my siblings and I loved sports. Our parents’ rule was that in middle school and high school (in an effort to keep us out of trouble) we had to play a musical instrument and we had to play a sport. I walked into my high school gymnasium at freshman orientation and I chose volleyball. Not because I knew anything about it, not because I had ever seen it on TV, but because I’m the youngest of 3 and neither of my older siblings had ever played it. I was desperate to do my own thing for once! 

Volleyball was my passion and I played the heck out of it all through my college years. After graduation, I thought sports were something you got to do when you were young. We’d stay active with the summer 5K races or the annual Turkey Trot. But there was no real competition anymore. Now life was about “working out”. It was just a way to stay skinny, or to stay fit. I ran most days in order to shed extra pounds, or to tone up and fit into those skinny jeans. I got married, had 3 babies and it seemed like life was settling into a nice hum. Sure, I’d put on about 30 pounds, but I was post partum and this was life as a mom. I was fulfilling my God-given purpose. I had always wanted to be a mom, I had always wanted to have time to volunteer at church and teach Sunday School. Then I got the stomach bug.

I was sick for days. I don’t think I ate for a whole week. My stomach shrank, I didn’t need to eat as much food as I had before. Hmm, watching the number go down on the scale was pretty fun. This felt good. I started working out through BeachBody, with a purpose, watching what I ate, I lost weight fast. In a few months, I was stick thin, with a nursing baby, and two toddlers under the age of 3. I was SUPER MOM. 

A dear friend, who always seemed to rope me into crazy physical stunts with her, challenged me to race a duathlon. I didn’t even know what a duathlon was. Turns out it’s a 5K run, a 20K bike, and another 5K run. “I don’t run anymore” I told her. “Those days are behind me.” 

Well, as usual, she talked me into it. So I signed up and started running and riding. This seemed like a good challenge, physically and mentally. I had never swam competitively so a triathlon was definitely out of the picture. I was fearful of lap swimming, it seemed monotonous and I was so slow at it. A duathlon was more realistic for me. 

Well wouldn’t you know it, I won the whole thing. I was first place of all the females. There were definitely more people doing the triathlon than the duathlon, a bigger field for competition. Well shoot, I bet I can learn how to swim. This run-bike-run is for the birds. “Oh I’m just a mom.” Became “oh I’m a mom, and I do triathlons.”

I went from a kid who loved sports, to a college athlete, to a mom who was pretty into fitness, to a triathlete who gets a podium finish at every race.

Fast forward a year, I’ve got a super fast bike, I’m dropping time in my swim practices like a fish, I can run up mountains like a gazelle. I find a podcast about professional triathletes. 

Shut. The. Front. Door. 

I turn to my husband “THERE ARE PROFESSIONAL TRIATHLETES. IT’S A THING.” He shrugs. 

“I HAVE to do this. I can’t know this is out there and NOT do it.”

I discover a woman I went to college with all those years ago, yep, she’s a pro triathlete. I say to my sister, “I can’t know she’s a pro and NOT go after this.” 

“I get it” my sister says. Because she does. Because she’s my sister.

This is my journey. My crooked, VERY HILLY (hello Blue Ridge Mountains), beautiful journey. 

I love Jesus. And I’m a little bit competitive. I believe those can go together.

The quote above is from one of my favorite poems, I have found that repeating motivational mantras while I’m in the thick of a hard workout or race is motivating and mind numbing (in a good way). This is one of those mantras I say during lap swimming when the intervals seem too hard, during biking when the hills seem too steep, or during runs when the headwind is coming from every direction. “You are not surprised at the force of the storm, you are the storm.” I want to take triathlon by storm, because I am the storm.

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