Why I Tri? by Kelly Christensen
I’ve been doing triathlons for nine years, and my mother STILL can’t believe that I can swim with my face in the water. Apparently we tried Mommy and Me swimming classes and I was the only baby that flunked out. All the other babies giggled with joy after their mothers dunked them under the water, but I bawled (“but hey, I think that lady might have just tried to kill me!”). It didn’t end there. Hair washing time usually included tears. I can remember the day I called my dad at work to tell him that Mommy washed my hair and I didn’t even cry. Yes, I was old enough to dial a rotary phone the first time that happened. Needless to say, my real swim training would have to wait a few years (actually, more like a few decades).
I stayed pretty active as a kid – riding bikes all over the neighborhood, a little soccer, basketball, track, and some recreational swimming with my face mostly above the water. But distance running? No way! I was a sprinter & jumper on the Junior High track team. The coaches would occasionally make the entire team run one or two miles, and it was my worst nightmare. Everyone would take off, leaving me and the shot putters pulling up the rear with side stitches and nausea. Where was “Couch to 5K” in 1982? Running was on my “Do Not Do” list for many years after that, and I was one of those people who thought runners must be a little crazy. Well...one could still make an argument.
Anyway, as a rather unlikely candidate for multi-sport, how did I get here? Three events led me to my first venture in triathlon during the summer of 2007. First, I attended a brown bag presentation at work called “Triathlon 101”, led by a former RTB member. Honestly, I’m not sure why I went – at this point I had only dipped my toe into walk/run intervals, had only mastered the side stroke and the doggy paddle, and didn’t own a bike. The speaker was very enthusiastic but not intimidating, and made tri-sport sound like a fun challenge. That same summer I started treatment with a chiropractor for back spasms. He just happened to be a triathlon superstar and I heard all about his adventures…ok, this was sounding pretty cool! And finally, while laid up in a hotel room in Chicago with a truly miserable 24-hour flu bug, I saw a Bryant Gumbel special on triathlon’s Team Hoyt. If you haven’t heard of them, please check them out. Their story brought me to tears and inspired me beyond belief. One evening a few weeks later, my friend and I decided to sign up for a race. I can’t remember if wine was involved...maybe so. Our first step was to spend the next seven weeks trying to learn to swim – with our faces IN the water. Yea, minor details. Let’s just say I survived my first two races by flipping over and backstroking as hard as I could.
t seemed like life converged (or God conspired) to bring me into this tri-sport lifestyle, and I know it was meant to be. The sport and the community have brought so much good to my life, it’s impossible to quantify.
Here are just a few things that pulled me in and keep me coming back for more:
1. Fun! As a really wise team owner told me recently, “well it’s supposed to be fun so…” Sounds simple, right? If you are participating in triathlon, and not really having fun, then something needs to change. Peg the “fun meter”! If you still can’t find the fun, help someone else have fun. That’s fun too.
2. Fitness (physical and otherwise)! There are obvious physical benefits from training for three sports, which by themselves are a great incentive to stick with it. But for me, the mental benefits are just as valuable. I find training to be my best solution to managing stress. It also is one of the best antidotes for dealing with any type of bad mood, even depression. I always finish a workout with a better attitude than I started with, and I’ve experienced runners high, which is amazing (ok, runners, you’re not totally crazy). In addition, I love the mental challenges of learning the sport, setting goals and achieving them. Breaking mental barriers is enlightening. Most of our limitations are self-induced, these little boxes we put ourselves into. But we can decide to take ourselves out of those boxes too. I’m still learning this lesson and how to apply it. It’s never appropriate to say “I can’t” or “I’ll never”, unless you’ve made a decision to stay in that box. They say you have to believe it to achieve it, but sometimes you just have to say what the heck and fake it ‘til you make it. Try something new (or harder) knowing that it might not work, but that sometimes it will and you can surprise yourself.
3. Family & friendships! I’ve met some of my favorite people through triathlon and Raise the Bar, and have created some amazing friendships. This community provides incredible support, whether your goal is to stand on the podium or to finish your first race or a new distance with a smile on your face. When you get hurt, they are there to help. When you succeed, they are there to cheer. When you fail or fear, they are there to encourage. This is a true community in the best sense of the word. I’m also very blessed to have great support at home. My husband Denny is my favorite bike mechanic, riding partner, and cheerleader. My son Alec has been cheering me on for years, even getting up early to volunteer at races. I love those guys so much, and I couldn’t have had all this fun without their love, support, and sacrifice.
I’m very grateful that triathlon found me. My life has been incredibly enriched, be it from the beauty of a good run outdoors, the meditation of a morning lake swim in glassy water, the exhilaration of race starts, or the satisfaction at the finish line celebrating with friends. It’s a gift I will continue to enjoy and share, hopefully for many years to come.
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