“Life is a Journey, Not a Destination”

Every journey starts with the first step…

My drive to tri began in an unusual way; it was December 2008 and my college friends and I were reliving our youth, drinking appletinis in a hot tub when someone suggested, out of the blue, “Hey, you should do a triathlon with me!”  She went on and on about how amazing an experience it was and how much it would change me.  Needless to say, my judgment was impaired when I agreed to do it considering I knew nothing of the distances, had cobwebs and flat tires on my 15 year old mountain bike, didn’t know how to swim and never had a desire to learn due to my fear of open water, and most of all because my only physical activity at that point was yoga class.  I hadn’t done a competitive event since freshman year of college, which was 20 years and three kids ago at that point.  But somehow, for some reason, actually for many reasons, just like so many of you, I took the first step and said yes.

And so my journey began…

By chance I found out about the triathlon class at Rowan and signed up, not knowing a soul.  Serendipity can be a beautiful thing as I have made what I hope are life long friends from that class who have inspired me to be more than I thought possible.  That first swim workout I completed with no fins was such a huge milestone for me, a non-swimmer.  And I often revisit another defining moment from that class.  We were in the spin room with Coach IronNick at the helm playing songs from his iPod that you won’t find on any radio station.  I was thinking to myself how tired I was from the swim workout and that I had a choice to make at that moment.  As I rode that spinning bike, I said aloud in a whisper, “I can choose to be weak or I can choose to be strong.  I choose to be strong.”  From that point on, there was no question I could do it.  I made the commitment, and I wasn’t turning back.

Fast forward to September 2009, and I’ve just crossed the finish line with that coveted finisher’s medal hanging around my neck.  My other friend in the hot tub that fateful winter’s night finished as well, and we embrace in a teary, sweaty celebration of our accomplishment.  Family and friends surrounded me, and I felt a sense of satisfaction I hadn’t ever felt before.  After 8 years of living just for my kids and my family, I had finally taken the time to set a goal and do something for myself.  But just when I thought I was finished, I realized I was just beginning.  Sure, the race was over, but the journey would continue with full force.  After that first triathlon, I took some time to reflect on how my journey had changed me and how that new and improved person will evolve in the future.  Little did I know that the future would hold a half ironman.

On September 11, 2011, exactly two years after my first sprint tri, I completed the Diamondman Half Ironman in Bear, Delaware.  The significance of the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 weighed heavily in my heart during the moment of silence that overcast morning, but it took the form of a sincere feeling of gratitude, and how, in spite of all the changes in our world since that dreadful day, we cannot forget the importance of believing in our dreams.  Even when I climbed that nasty Reedy Point Bridge for the second time on tired legs while yelling expletives the entire way to the top, I was still truly grateful for the opportunity to fulfill my dream.  I used those 56 miles of the bike course as an opportunity to thank the troopers and local cops for their service and told them I had not forgotten.  It was important to keep the race positive every step of the way, and this was one of the ways I maintained that positive energy.

That positivity, along with the confidence I gained from a fabulous 1.2 mile swim, carried me off my bike and onto the run course without any hesitation, except for the time it took to use the port-o-potty.  The start of the 13.1 mile run is when your thoughts can either make or break you.  There is a huge gaping window of opportunity for any doubt or fear or negativity to come rushing in at that moment.  As I trained over the months before the race, I made sure to train my brain to suppress those undermining doubts that can creep up at the worst possible times.  Completing a half ironman was the goal I set back in January of this year, and every race, every workout, and every weekend I didn’t indulge in appletinis, was aimed toward accomplishing that goal.  At the point when the race was the hardest, the key was to relax and trust my training.  Somehow it all came together and, just as I had hoped, I finished in 6 hours and 15 minutes with a great big smile on my face.  Because of all that training and determination, the race was a positive, fulfilling experience for me.  Now that it is over, I have been on a mission to thank everyone that helped me achieve that goal.  Doctors, coaches, friends, my fellow club members, my wonderful family and especially my number one fan, my husband, all played a part in this accomplishment.  Thank you all for your time, expertise, friendship, support, words of encouragement and inspiration.

Another new beginning…

As the 2011 race season draws to a close, I look back at what I’ve accomplished with pride and look to the future with excitement.  Yes, of course I am toying with the idea of a full ironman someday, but life is so much more than swimming, biking and running.  The key is to take that confidence and move forward with it in all aspects of our lives.  We are triathletes because we believed we could do it, because we chose to be strong; just imagine what else we can do, and let’s go and get that, too.

The wisdom and strength we gain from our journey as athletes are not limited to the sport of triathlons.  The lessons we learn are never ending and life changing.  Without this piece, we’re just chasing pavement.  Not only should we ask, “where do I want to go from here?”, but we must also reflect on where the journey is taking us.  Answering those questions is all a part of the journey, too.  But whatever way you answer, be sure to enjoy the ride with a great big smile.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard “I can’t do triathlons because I can’t swim!” I would have more than enough money to support my new found triathlon obsession. Although, I can relate because it was me too who looked at Michelle Powell last fall like she had two heads when she encouraged me to join the MHWTC. To say that I could not swim to save my own life is putting it lightly.

On top of not being able to swim, I also had not been on a bike for almost 7 years. I was a runner and not even a competitive runner, I just ran for my own sanity. Life can get pretty crazy around here. I am a mother of three beautiful and extremely energetic children ages 7, 5 and 2 that I have the pleasure of staying at home with every day. I am a full time graduate student at Rutgers University studying Biology. My husband Steven is an attorney in Haddon Heights who works long hours and we work very hard to find a balance to fit everyone’s needs on a daily basis.  I would not trade my crazy life for anything in the world but as rewarding as it is being a stay at home mother is, it can become very lonely at times.

We moved to Mullica Hill just over two years ago from Haddon Township.  This was a huge change from the neighborhood we lived in because in Haddon Township the houses are on top of each other and there were always neighbors and children in and around my house at all times. I wished for the day that I would be able to roll out of bed and walk around in my pajamas for once without the fear of someone showing up at the door unannounced.  When we moved here we bought in a small development of only 15 houses and none of the neighbors have children close to my children’s ages. It was quite a change from where I was living. It was eerily quiet.   My children were not yet in the school system so I found it difficult to make friends. After about a few months of living here the loneliness set in. I needed some sort of release because I felt like I could burst.  I started working out regularly and running on the treadmill. It had been a number of years since I had really run so I started out very slow interchanging a run and walk. Each time I ran I was able to go longer and run faster. During the 2009 World Series and I believed the Phillies performed better when I was running. Yes, I believed Chase Utley only got a hit if I was running.  So running for most of a baseball game helped build my stamina and I was finally able to able to run for 60 minutes or more.

The treadmill eventually became boring to me so I decided to buy a jogging stroller for my son Chase and me to venture outside. I was running three to four times a week anywhere from 4-8 miles at an average of 7:15 minute mile. I felt like a runner again so of course I bought a new running wardrobe and all of the gear that goes along with the sport and the moms at Richwood preschool took notice and continuously said to me “You should join that Tri Club!” I would laugh and tell them that I run in the park with a stroller, I am NOT a triathlete! Meanwhile, the preschool transition was difficult for my middle daughter Bryce and she struggled to make friends as she has severe anxiety in social situations. There was one little spirited girl that took Bryce under her wing and befriended her and protected her from teasing children as well. That little girl was Marissa Powell, Michelle Powell’s daughter. This relationship between our daughters introduced us and Michelle in turn took me under her wing and the rest is history.

I agreed to go to the MHWTC kick off meeting to see what this was all about and it only took one inspiring power point presentation and I was hooked! The meeting was in February and I promised myself that I would do this, I will complete a triathlon but not until next year. For 2010 I will run then I will start biking in the fall and next year I will start taking swim lessons. The thought of a swim lesson horrified me to the core. In my mind there was nothing that could get me into the water this year.  Nothing that is until Lori Muller, a friend that I encouraged to join with me even after she said “But I can’t swim!” set up our very first swim lesson in late March. I had promised Lori that I would learn with her but I didn’t think she actually meant this year! Lori made the appointment and even went and bought all of our flippers and gear too.  I had no other choice but to go she was just as terrified as I was and I could not let her down. At my first lesson, I could barely doggie paddle and it was very scary but by mid lesson, surprisingly, I felt very relaxed. I left that night smiling and excited for the next lesson. I realized it was not so terrifying, actually it was incredibly amazing. Swimming is hard work and I was up for the challenge. I signed up for Queen of the Hill and SheRox and it was official, I was going to complete a triathlon. I took swim lessons once per week religiously from March to June. I was swimming well in the pool and developed a lot of confidence. That is until I had my first open water experience at Lake Wenonah. Oh my goodness can you say ANXIETY ATTACK?

I had my very first real anxiety attack in that lake. I went home crying and saying there is no possible way that I can do this. I cannot swim in open water. I immediately texted all of the people behind the scenes working with me and told them I quit. I can’t do the swim this year.  I woke up the next day and went back to the pool remembering that I am not a quitter. The following week I went to the open water swim at Lake Gilman where Queen of the Hill would be held and I had hoped it would be better than my Lake Wenonah experience. Well, I was wrong.  I got in the water and I immediately began to panic. Thankfully, Colleen with her noodle in hand went around with me. She talked to me and comforted me as I gasped for air trying to make it around that course. I made it around in just over 30 minutes. I got out of the water and desperately tried to find a place for me to hide and cry. I cried as I rode my bike home and continued to cry the rest of the night.

The next morning I went back to the pool and continued to practice. The following week was the last open water swim before Queen of the Hill and I cried the entire drive to the lake then sat in my car and cried until I forced myself out of the car. My swim instructor was there that night and he went around with me. He gave me a strategy and I made it around in about 25 minutes still panicking but I was better than the prior weeks. I left that night with a smile on my face confident that I would get through the race. So June 25th finally arrives and it’s time to race. You could see the fear in my eyes, I was completely terrified. But then something strange happened when I got into the water to begin the race, I became excited for what I was about to accomplish. My swim coach was in the water as a safety guard and he yelled out to me asking if I was ok, I said “I’m good!” and finished the swim in 13 minutes to my astonishment.

Since QOH I have completed four triathlons two involving 400 meter swims and the other two were 600 meter swims. My last 400 meter swim was an ocean swim in the freezing cold (well it was freezing to me 72 degrees) ocean without a wetsuit against the current. I also completed 4 long distance road races including my first half marathon. I am going to continue to train hard especially in swimming. 2010 was one of the most incredible years of my life and I am expecting big things for 2012. I have made so many friends that truly inspire me every day. I will continue to pay it forward and try to inspire others and give them what this club has given me. I would never have been able to do this alone. Having Andee Bramplett out there waiting for me at 6 am to run has not only motivated me and turned me into a morning person but has given me yet another incredible lifelong friend.

On Sunday I completed my first half marathon next to Lydia DelRosso who told me back in May at the Broad Street run that she would never run a half marathon or more for that matter. We have together made plans for next year to train for a full marathon. Yes Lydia I will hold you to that and now the entire club knows from reading this so we have to do it now. I would like to thank the four incredible women that started this amazing club that has changed my life and the lives of so many others in such a short time in so many incredible ways. Also, thank you to every member that I have encountered this past year because each and every one of you has inspired me in some way or another also.  I have to thank my wonderful husband Steven for supporting me (even at the most inconvenient times), for being my biggest cheerleader, rearranging his life to accommodate my early/late workouts, Thank You. I am looking forward to 2012 and many years to come with the MHWTC. I can’t wait to see what you girls do next, Go PINK!!!

 

To say that this Season of Triathlon was fabulous would be a complete understatement.  I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.  From the hours of training, to the sharing of well-deserved beers with friends after a workout, it is difficult to narrow down the best memories of the season.  There are many, but these are just some of my favorite moments from Triathlon Season 2011.

Queen of the Hill Triathlon

What an extraordinary day! I think I slept for a total of 2-3 hours that night.  This was my first triathlon, so the nerves and excitement were too much.  I was so worried about being late, not finding a transition spot, not finding a parking spot.  Embarrassingly enough I was the first one to show up at the race!  All of that worry for nothing.

Without a doubt the best part of that race for me was the surprise fly by.  I actually had tears in my eyes.  I couldn’t believe my reaction to it.  When I thought about it later, I realized that what had hit me the hardest was a sense of the power that so many people had when they come together with a common purpose.  This is a group of 250 plus women, all of whom have their own individual strengths and connections.  When you can coordinate them together like this club and its founders have done, amazing things are possible.

Bridgeton Sunset Challenge

This was my first Olympic Distance Aqua/ Bike race inspired by my hatred of running.  My first thought was they had big shoes to fill  (coming on the heels of QOH).  Where was Kate Hayden singing? Where was the perfectly timed fly by? Blueberries? Champagne toast? It was a difficult pill to swallow when I realized that not all triathlons were of Queen of the Hill standards.

My favorite part of this race was the 79 year old triathlete.  He rolls up in style in his station wagon, pulls his bike out of the back that was clearly manufactured sometime in the seventies I’m sure.  Which, by the way, I can totally appreciate because of the fact that my bike is not much more advanced!  This man had done this a million times before.  When he crossed that finish line, he received special cheers and so many faces looking on in awe. I was one of them.  If I am lucky enough,

Ride the Farms

It is my belief that there is not an activity out there that is more my speed than this one.  Whoever thought of this should receive a medal.  Bike riding with friends (at a slower pace!), shopping for produce, and supporting local farms.  Is there anything out there that is more earth-friendly and community building than this? I think not! If you told me that there was a Mullica Hill Ride the Farms Event every month, I say sign me up every time.

Greenfield Triathlon

I enjoyed the simplicity, and easy-going nature of this race.  It was a fabulous experience, but I will never forget one thing about this one.  One of the many new friends that I have made through the club, Kim Gaskell, was lucky enough to have her parents at this race as spectators.  There was one thing that Kim’s Mom noticed, that I thought was so true, and very funny.  She watched as the athletes transitioned from the swim to the bike, and the bike to the run.  She noticed that some of the guys were lightning fast, their transition times must have been mere seconds.  However, the Tri- Club Women were a little slower during these times.  I thought about it, and realized how much chit-chat I engage in during these times.  It is quite literally a time for me to talk with the other ladies in pink.  Some examples include, “Are you wearing sunglasses for the bike?” “I’m not sure, what are you thinking?”  “Ugh…I can’t believe I have to run now!” I swear I consider transition times as mini conversation breaks!

She- Rox Triathlon

In one word- unbelievable! Somehow, wearing that pink suit on this day made me feel more like a superhero than a triathlete.  How could you not feel this way, when it seemed like every 3 minutes there was someone else in the crowd cheering, “Great job, Christine” or “Go Mullica Hill!” What a feeling to be in such a huge race in Philly and have so many people recognize you in that suit!  All I have to say is I cannot wait until that Broad Street Run next year! I’m expected big things from our Mullica Hill fans!

Overall, I am so grateful for being part of something that is so fabulous.  I have built STRONGER friendships, made many NEW friendships and rekindled OLD friendships.  I can’t wait to continue making new memories with everyone for years to come!