Meet three age-groupers who, after hitting rock bottom in their individual battles with alcoholism, PTSD and anxiety, used triathlon to bring themselves back to health and happiness.
Southern California native Rochelle Moncourtois woke up one day with a ferocious hangover after another night of heavy, blackout drinking. She was 26 years old, and her battle with alcohol, which had started seven years prior, had left her with multiple DUI’s on her record and a 30-day (unsuccessful) rehab stint.
Since graduating high school, she had lost her purpose—she’d stopped dancing, a passion she’d had since age 3. In between binges, she’d managed to become an aesthetician, run half and full marathons and get her personal training certification. But none of that took her away from alcohol—until that day in 2011.
“I woke up and realized I didn’t remember anything from the night before and that I couldn’t carry on like that anymore,” she recalls. “I really wanted my life to change. I didn’t like the person I had become. … I went into my backyard, threw a bottle of wine and I told myself I was going to make a change that day.”
Moncourtois emphasizes that she didn’t grow up in a broken, dysfunctional home, as many people assume when they hear about her drinking—she had loving and supportive parents who navigated the battle with her. It was the stresses of competitive dancing that drove her to alcohol: “I felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way, for dance specifically,” she says. “Because of all the pressure, I started to fall into a major depression, and I actually became bulimic through all of it. Then I turned to the alcohol—it was my way to escape from all those pressures.”
Her parents and friends started to notice a change in her. She lost interest in dance, started lying and became manipulative. She was ticketed with DUI’s twice and voluntarily underwent her first 30-day rehab program, in Hollywood. “I was just going through the motions to kind of please everyone else around me,” she says, “but I knew that wasn’t really the end of my drinking.” She stayed sober for about five months before falling back into her old habit, at which point she blacked out pretty much every time she drank.
It was after that return to drinking that she decided to make a lasting change and check herself into another rehab program, this time going into it “full force with the goal to get sober and change my life.”
In 2008, in the middle of her battle with alcohol, she had become friends with her spin class instructor, Kim Melvin, who was the person who encouraged her to start running in her early 20s. Moncourtois watched her friend complete an Ironman, and even though she was still drinking heavily, it became a dream of hers to one day finish an Ironman as well. In fact, during her second rehab stint, she named it as one of her post-rehab goals and registered for the race the day she got home. She started her seven months of triathlon training when she was 90 days sober.
With Melvin’s help as a training partner, Moncourtois crossed the finish line of the iron-distance 2012 Full Vineman in Sonoma County, Calif., in 14:25:12. “I never wanted to touch alcohol again after I crossed that finish line,” she says. “I know what a lot of people experience, they say [an Ironman finish] is life-changing. But for me, it saved my life. I wasn’t even a year sober yet, so if I didn’t have Ironman, I don’t even know if I would have made it through that first year.”
Now 30 years old, Moncourtois works as a personal trainer and fitness instructor and is getting married in 2016. She’s in the final stages of publishing a book about her life journey with the goal of helping others who’ve faced similar struggles. She’ll be racing Ironman 70.3 St. George this year, and down the road, after she has kids, she’d like to complete another Ironman. “I want to do another Ironman to show my kids what you’re capable of,” she says. “I want them to know that anything is possible and for them to see what changed my life, and to show other women out there you can still achieve your goals and dreams after having kids.”