I wasn't what you'd call athletic.
I just wanted a challenge--something to do that I'd never done before. I had been a dancer, but I found the adult dance classes depressing. As a teenager, I could sink into splits, but now I could barely get my foot up on the barre. So I bought a book called Slow, Fat Triathlete by Jayne Williams and got to work. And four months later, on August 8, 2008, I crossed the finish line for the first time in my life. My husband was there waiting for me.
"You are amazing!" he yelled.
|Celebrating our awesomeness.|
It was the most wonderful feeling to know that I had done something I never thought I was capable of doing. I proved to myself that I am a badass when I need to be. That feeling would become very important to me before too long, because almost exactly one year later, we got my son's autism diagnosis. And I thought, OK, you can do this. You're tougher than you thought. Triathlons gave me the confidence to face the never-ending challenges of parenting a child on the spectrum.
I still race. I'm not much faster than I was when I started and I don't train as much as I'd like. (That whole autism-parenting thing takes up a lot of time.) I'm not competitive. I run my own race--which is usually far behind a lot of other people, but that's o.k., because I'm still in it. I have nothing to prove to myself now. So why do it? What started out as a challenge has become a lifeline. Racing is my therapy.
Because everyone loves lists, here are my top five reasons for racing:
1) Training. Without the goal, I would not train, and training is important and sometimes fun. I love the feeling of being in the water--my earplugs and goggles help me block out the rest of the world. I just count my strokes and listen to the sound of my own breathing and follow that blue line at the bottom of the pool. Sometimes training brings unexpected fun, like the time my husband and I went out for an exhausting, hilly ride and ended up at a bar with a sign that said "Bikers Welcome." We were not the kind of bikers they meant. They wore leather. We wore spandex.
2) Health. This isn't about weight loss. (I don't consider myself "spandex-ready," and I don't care.) It's about time to focus on myself, and do something just for me. But it's also about my family--about being there for my family. I have to live a long, long time. My kids are going to need me and I want to get as far as I can before I have to pass the baton. Besides, our lives are stressful; this is a positive way to deal with stress, and allows for some trade-offs. Like my buddy Joe said to me in the faculty cafeteria, "As long as I'm teaching special ed, I can't quit drinking. So I'm gonna eat this salad." I'm not quitting wine or M&Ms anytime soon.
3) Triathlon people. Love them! Tri people are the most encouraging and open people in the world. Shivering at the water's edge before a start immediately bonds people. Athletes emerge from porta-johns with their arms raised in triumph. "Yes! I POOPED!" And we cheer. (Note: It's very important to poop before a race. Triathletes discuss poop as often as autism parents do. They are my people.).
4) Triathlon spectators. They cheer for everyone--not just their friends! They bang on cowbells and hold up signs. I love these people. How great would life be if we had these spectators cheering us on as we faced other challenging moments in life? Imagine trying to drag a mid-meltdown child out of Target, and you've got a crowd of supporters encouraging you. "You've got this, Mom! You are awesome! Only two more aisles and you're out of the store! YOU CAN DO IT!"
5) The Finish Line. I need a finish line. I need to look back and say, Yeah, I did that. I need to feel like I've accomplished something. Parenting is great, but it's never done, it's never over. But when I cross the finish line, that can't be undone. I've done this great thing and I've done it for myself and there's nothing that can take that away.
Plus, many of the better races have a beer garden at the finish, and that's good, too.