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Beginner’s Luck: Grounded In Gratitude

  • By Meredith Atwood
  • Published Feb 4, 2016
Illustration by Hunter King

Triathlon and a new attitude helped me find the person I had lost in the rat race of life.

I’ll admit that around the time my kiddos were the ages of 1 and 2, I had sort of lost my way. Not in a directional sense, but more in the sense of not knowing who I was. I was confused about who and what I had become. I had graduated from college, married young and plunged head-first into law school. Before I knew what happened, I had a legal career that was making me miserable, a spouse who was working ridiculously long hours and two young babies who (while precious and amazing) were very, very exhausting. I was trying to do it all, and I was running on fumes.

When I added triathlon to the mix, I am not sure what I was thinking. I should be taking away extra things to do, not adding work, I said to myself. Plus, I totally suck as a triathlete. I can’t swim worth a crap. I fall over at every red light on my bike. And running? Let’s not even talk about it. I know what running looks like, and I am not running.

I kept at it, though. I (sort of) sucked a little less with each workout. More importantly, I began to enjoy the process of training for triathlon. The swim made lovely bubbly noises, which at 5:30 in the morning was comforting. Underwater was a secret place where no one could reach me: no emails, no phone calls and no “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” Runs were hard and sweaty, but I gradually improved. As an added bonus, I began to stop easily and without drama on my bike.

I did some races over the course of a year: some sprints, an Olympic distance, and I topped off my first full season of triathlon with a half-iron-distance race, finishing pretty solidly for the overweight, slow racer I was. But even with a half-iron under my belt, I didn’t consider myself a “real” triathlete.

“I do triathlon things,” I would tell people. (What does that even mean?)

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Well, turns out that I was afraid. I was afraid of triathlon things. I was afraid of it all. Training, race day and my bicycle. No matter how much I swam or biked or ran, I was a nervous Nellie. Also, no matter how much I swam, I hated putting on the swimsuit around other people. I hated myself in my cycling jersey and in the tri kit on race day. I was racing (albeit slowly), but I still felt like a fraud. Why was I doing things that were terrifying me?
With my first triathlon bike, I decided to take stock in my worth and really start behaving like a triathlete. No matter if I looked like a triathlete (I didn’t) or not (still don’t), darn it, I was going to act like one. Me and my fancy new set of wheels. On my flagship bike ride with Andy Potts (not the real one—the name of my bike at the time), I was feeling like a “real” triathlete. Look at me! I have allll the triathlon things now! I swear to you, I was saying that in my head when I ran off the trail and rode my bike slap into a solo rider. Poor Andy. I felt like such a newbie. I mean, who gets a brand new tri bike and crashes it just because?

Acting like a triathlete and having all the fancy things clearly was not the issue. All the things just made it all the more clear that I was out of my league. Because in my head and heart, I still believed that I was some sort of weird triathlon fraud. Was it because I wasn’t super fit looking like “everyone else” on the race course? Maybe. Was it because I was slower than most? Maybe. I started thinking and making lists about all the things that were “wrong” with me, and after a while, it was clear that I should quit the sport entirely. Time. Money. Speed. Back fat. Arm fat. Black toenails. Spandex. (Just to name a few of the hundred.)

But I continued to come back to one reason and one reason only that I continued to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to train. There was one reason that I continued to push through the fear. My mind circled right back to this one small thing about triathlon: Deep down, triathlon made me happy.

Once I embraced the fact that I was doing this sport simply because I enjoyed it, then things began to change for me. Somehow, I began to believe myself a triathlete—I found myself worthy of that small title: triathlete. I put out the mantra “be brave, be thankful” in preparation for my first Ironman race. I began to repeat to my triathlete friends: Race with a happy and thankful heart. Yes—be brave on the race course, but be thankful you are out there, racing and enjoying the beautiful day in a body that is working for you. Making the switch from a fussy, worrywart newbie into a semi-confident triathlete felt fairly simple when I changed my internal dialogue from, “You are such a triathlete loser!” to “Look at what your amazing body just accomplished!”

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Oh, the body. Please understand that I am so grateful for the capable, strong and fiercely determined body. Still, my body is sometimes the biggest struggle for me. My body is the one hang-up that keeps me timid in my quest for being a real triathlete. No matter how much weight I lose, I still think of myself as someone who is lost, wandering around on race day, getting in the way of the real triathletes out there. (“Who let that little chubby girl across the Ironman finish line? Get her back in the food tent, stat!”)

I jest, and I keep going back to gratitude, over and over. Because no matter what my body looks like, it is a body doing wonders for me on race day and in each day of training. I think about the people in this world who would give anything to have a healthy body that is even slightly capable of swimming or cycling or running—not to mention all three in one race. With each day of triathlon gratitude, I watched myself gain back a little bit of the person I had lost—that person who had become so muddled down and lost in the rat race of life. By surrounding myself with this triathlon shield of gratitude, everything else seemed to make more sense. I began to search for happiness and gratitude in other areas of my life—at home, at the office, in my relationships with co-workers and friends. I found that I listened more carefully and loved more deeply. I was kinder and gentler to those around me because I felt blessed and thankful to just be me. Me: the person who just happened to be a real triathlete.

Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and blogs at SwimBikeMom.com.

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