My husband is a triathlon junky. He loves swimming in the early morning, he loves going for fast bike rides and he loves going for long runs. And when you put those three things together, he feels like a superhero. He gets all the endorphins. I, on the other hand, never learned to swim as a kid, I prefer leisurely rides on my bike, and I would rather reserve running for the zombie apocalypse. So how did I end up doing two triathlon events this year?
It goes back to September 2017. My husband had just wrapped up his tri season, and I was tri-curious. I was reading books like, “Slow Fat Triathlete” and “Triathlon for the Every Woman.” I had my sister over for dinner, and she asked me, “Anything new?” So I told her about the books I had been reading, and said, “I’m kind of thinking about tri-ing. I’d have to learn to swim, though.” Her face lit up, and she said, “Oh yeah! Totally do it. You should.” The next day, my sister died.
For the next few weeks, I didn’t think about triathlon at. all. I was just coping. But near Christmas 2017, I began to think about tri-ing again. My husband had started to talk to me about his training schedule for the 2018 season, and it got my wheels turning. I did a quick Google search for Indiana sprint triathlon events, and the first one I found took place on April 28, 2018 at Ball State University. Three days after what should have been my sister’s next birthday, on her college campus. I felt like God was telling me in no uncertain terms, that I needed to do this event, no excuses.
I signed up (my awesome in-laws actually paid for it as part of my Christmas gift that year). But little problem . . . I didn’t know how to swim. So my husband bought me 6 swim lessons at our local YMCA (another Christmas gift). God was removing all the excuses as they arose, with a little help from my support system.
The next few months were a blur of early mornings and late evenings swimming with my friend, Emma. Emma had agreed to tri with me, even though she didn’t really know how to swim, either. (Thanks, girl. You da best!) I did a few rounds of Whole 30 to support my grief and training, kept reading books, tried on a ton of compression, and joined an online triathlon group. (Check out http://www.swimbikemom.com/triclub if you’re interested.) I rode my bike as often as the weather allowed, I did indoor cycling when it was gross out, I drug my butt out for runs and the dreadmill.
April 28 was upon me before I was really ready, but no excuses. My husband and I made the hike up to Muncie for my first sprint triathlon. I grabbed a purple Sharpie marker and wrote my sister’s name on my arm, to remind myself the reason I was there. Purple was her favorite color. The transition area was on the green directly in front of my sister’s first dormitory. I visited her on campus while she was a freshman, and she and I sat on the same spot, chatting and dreaming like young sisters do together. I thanked God for bringing me that memory in that moment. A memory from when my sister was happy and healthy and safe and in her chosen home.
The actual event was . . . uneventful. I finished the swim in my projected time, I did (slightly) better than expected on my bike, and I crawled in the run portion. Overall, it went totally fine, if you ignore the fact that my tri shorts rolled down a few times while I was swimming (thanks to my weight loss while training). But the feelings I had while doing the event and looking down at my sister’s name were incredible. Meditative. Peaceful. Empowering.
My mom-in-law, my husband, my kids, and my friend Robyn all came to cheer me on and take me to lunch afterward. They were nothing but supportive and I couldn’t have done this event without their love. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
But my sister was there that day, too. She swam with me, laughed at my shorts falling down, biked alongside me, and pushed me through the run. I envisioned her at the finish with a sign saying, “You did it, seester! Love always, Ashley.”