Learning to Tri

As the day has come to be associated with reflection, Thursday seems a fitting opportunity to explore my history in triathlon – first, worst, best, toughest, qualifiers, victories, challenges.  Ten years of racing spread over thirteen years, with my own trifecta of biggest, middlest and littlest rounding out that time.  I can honestly say I don’t recall exactly what led me to the first start line, but each race holds a memory and they keep me coming back for more.

Best I can tell, triathlon simply offered an outlet for my competitive spirit, making use of my years of running while challenging me to see if sporadic stints in the pool for cross training and cycling, primarily as a means of transportation could combine to produce a decent result in a race.  Of all the events, it is not the fastest course, most spectacular venue or best placing I remember most fondly, but the race that has provided most opportunity to share the experience with friends and family.   Great Lakes Triathlon/Duathlon Championship, now known as Tri del Sol, will always hold a special place in my heart as the event that ushered me into the sport and has served as the inaugural triathlon for my husband, sister and many friends.

It was July 2002, I had just graduated from college, recently returned home from study abroad and within hours of landing, registered myself for the next available triathlon. And so I found myself in Middleville (yes, really) Michigan, in the wee hours of the morning with absolutely no idea what I was doing.  Without a wet-suit or much open water training, I navigated a most indirect course in a very murky lake, nearly doubling what was measured as a half-mile swim,  proceeded to ride a heavy hybrid bike in slow motion, relative to the sleek road racers, over 18 miles of countryside and finally found familiarity on the 4.8 mile run where I was surprised to find a sub 7-minute pace still left in my legs. Over the 2-plus hours from shaky start to (finally) finish, I was converted from “never-again” to “could I do this full-time” thoughts.

Later that day I registered for another race, again chosen for location and date, the details of which will be saved for another time, but from the moment the three disciplines came together in a singular challenge for body, mind and spirit, I knew this sport was for me.

As I write those words, I am sheepishly surprised to see the basis of the first tenet of osteopathy reflected directly back at me. Of course! I should have realized that the degree to which my racing career and medical vocation are intertwined is so much more than simply the time frame in which they have occurred. Rather than wonder, as I have many a time, who and where I would be had I pursued racing full time, I can see the importance of balancing both. That one would not exist in the same capacity without the other.

It is often thought that attention divided can only mean that dedication to one facet of life must lessen or suffer as another interest area is explored.  I have certainly spent many a moment wallowing in the guilt that training and racing make me less of a physician.  With this new revelation, however, I would counter my own doubts with the thought that perhaps my ability to see my patient as a whole is enhanced by my experience in triathlon. That time spent in the gym strengthening a weakness has offered opportunity to coach a patient more effectively when I am asking them to make a challenging lifestyle change and push their physical limits. That finding methods for improving focus while on a long ride or run strengthens my ability to relate to patients in their own time of difficulty.  That understanding the importance of an outlet for stress-release and recognizing both the elation of meeting that need and the warning signs when I haven’t allows me to relate to those same feelings in my patients.  I cannot, and now see that I should not, separate the athlete from the physician.  Rather, I should draw from the best of both to provide optimal care for my patients and achieve prime performance on the racing circuit.

While balance will still hold a preeminent place in my vernacular, I feel inspired by the idea that two prominent components of my life which I have often felt pressure to hold delicately, evenly and separate might actually benefit from a strong embrace, combining synergistically to make a better me. This leads me to wonder, where else might this be the case – how many other opportunities exist to snuff out worry, comparison and disparagement and instead allow our varied interests and activities to strengthen one another and enhance who we are.

I now see an oft-referenced quote from Sir Richard Branson in a different light, with special attention paid to the “s” on passions, supporting the idea that they can be multiple and, indeed, be synergistic

”There is no greater thing you can do you with you life and your work than follow your passions in a way that serves the world and you.”

May our passions be many and may we allow them to be mutually enhancing, inspiring us to bring a better version of ourselves to each facet of our lives.

And now, with great excitement, I sign off to place my order for Team USA racing kit – making this experience a little more real – thanks for sharing in the journey!



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