As some people may know, my journey started because I happened across the 2012 USAT Para-athlete National Championships in downtown Austin. That's when I realized I had no excuse not to “tri”. The husband of one of my clients was a coach and he agreed to help. That man was our very own Craig Kuglen.
Now, I was already a runner, and I rode a mountain bike as well. Swimming was my nemesis. You see, when I first started, I couldn't even swim to the end of a 25-yard pool without gasping for air. Did I mention that I was a smoker too? So that didn't help.
For about three weeks Craig worked with me on my swim, run, and taught me how to ride a tri bike, all the while talking me into my first tri. I still couldn’t swim after that three weeks, but I succumbed to his "encouragement", and signed up for my first tri, the Tri For Old Glory sprint. Craig said it was a good one to start with. The swim was an individual start (at the time most others were age group mass start), the water was shallow, and I could get to the side easily and walk if I got into trouble. The bike was rolling and the run was flat.
My nerves were bundled the closer and closer we got to the day of the event. My husband, Sam, was encouraging me that I could do this, and helped me get to the start while trying to keep my nerves in check - not an easy task!
Here we go! The day of the event. I was going to do this. At least Craig was there to show me the ropes, and Sam was there for support. Craig and I arrived in transition with our bikes, mine borrowed from him, and our gear, me in basically swim jammers, to get set up. I was looking around at all the athletes thinking to myself, what did I sign up for? Can I do this? Lord help me…
After we set up our area, Craig encouraged me to visualize walking myself from swim to bike to run, something I still do today, to make sure I know where everything is. When I walked up to the swim entrance, my heart started to pound with anxiousness. Who knew that the swim always looks longer on race day? I had mentally prepped for this moment, but not enough. Both Sam and Craig tried to help me with the nerves, but still I was worried. I walked through the motions of what I was to do, checked my gear in transition, hit the restroom...Rinse, Lather, Repeat.
Time to start. We lined up single file line to enter the water, me towards the back (I didn't want to get swam over). One by one athletes entered the water, until it was my turn. As I approached the water, Sam screamed "you got this baby!" - if only that was the case! I jumped in and away I went... sort of.
I swam like my life depended on it, and in my head, it did. I swam so hard - not well, but hard - that I ran out of steam and had to get to the side within the first 100 yards. When I got to the side, there was Sam encouraging me and telling me that I went out too fast, to slow down and that I got this. I wanted to quit so bad!
After a moment I was on my way, basically crawling near the shore trying to pull myself together. All the while, Sam was there telling me I can do it. I mustered up enough strength and determination to carry me through the rest of the swim, all the while swimming in the shallowest (and I mean SHALLOW) part of the water to the exit. There had never been someone happier to be out of the water.
I made my way to transition, grabbed my bike, and I was off. As I was riding those 12 miles, my mind was racing with thoughts. I kept telling myself, I got this, I got this! Don't let what happened in the water ruin the rest of race. I pedaled faster, and faster the madder I got about the swim. So much so that I almost wiped out taking a turn.
I got back to transition and gathered my run gear, and I was off. Run is my favorite part of the tri and I ran, I ran, and I ran. I was so happy to almost be done. And as I was approaching the finish line, the tears started to fill my eyes. I did it. I actually did it! This smoker of 20+ years did their first tri!
I finished, gathered my stuff, and was on the way out of transition when I learned one of my first lessons. NEVER take off your numbers from your body and your bike before leaving. As we walked out, the nice volunteer told me I couldn't take the bike out because there was no number. The bike was not mine, but Craig's. I panicked and tried to explain. Luckily Craig was right there to help explain, and eventually we were let out. Whew!
It was honestly one of the best feelings I have ever had. To know that I finished something that I never thought I would do. This moment changed my life forever. I didn't place, not even close, but I was proud. Proud of what I did. Proud of what I would become. Who knew that at that moment that I would be an Ironman today?
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