As I prepare to hit the road for my first 140.6 at Ironman Arizona, I thought it mwas fitting to blog a little bit more about my athletic story.
Those that know me know my story. I am not a natural athlete. I didn't know the athlete that was inside of me until I was well into my 20s...and never called myself an "athlete" until even after that.
Most of my childhood I was slightly overweight, filled with tons of self doubt and really not "great" at anything physical. I was a good kid. Very smart - testing off the charts in gifted and talented testing (although I swear they didn't know my lack of mathematical skills... haha!). I've always been someone to want to more for others; the most loyal friend you could find, and I was always naturally good at writing and with taking care of others. But sports? Nah. I dabbled in little league softball. I was okay....not the best, not the worst. Got bored. I was okay at my short career in 8th grade track - which was my first real introduction to running. Thanks to Papa for teaching me how to run -- I'll never forget that gravel track at Nora Elementary where he would go with me even in the dark and we would run laps...even when his heels hurt from heel spurs. I was fast enough there to be a solid middle of the packer and even then - I noticed my overall confidence go up. I decided then to try out for the high school track team.... but two weeks into conditioning I tripped and tore my achilles tendon. Which was the end of that. I gave up---deciding I wasn't good enough anyway, and decided to focus more on my love of performing arts for the remainder of high school.
Within those years -- there were a lot of ups and downs with my body. I definitely struggled with body image, with some disordered eating habits-- both on the restriction side but more so on the emotional eating side. My weight in high school steadily climbed and when I went to college it really ballooned. Looking back, I didn't realize why at the time. But I know now. I was avoiding feeling what I was really feeling and eating crap food was helpful... for a short period of time. Honestly, looking back at that 18 year old girl, I don't recognize her anymore. Besides her unhealthy weight, she was so incredibly shy it was sad. One day, I tried to put on a dress that I had bought 2 weeks before and it didn't zip up. TWO WEEKS! I realized right then that the red stretch marks on my stomach were not my imagination. I realized that something was wrong. I realized that I didn't want to feel like that anymore.
I called my mom that day and told her I wanted to lose weight -- healthfully- and that I needed her support. She was wonderful and agreed. When I came home from school for the summer she asked me what she could get for me. I had NO workout clothes. My boyfriend (now husband) at the time went with for me for my first "run" and I ran so slow he walked next to me. I made it 3 or 4 blocks before I had to stop and take a break. He encouraged me, and we went again the next day even though I was sore. 6 months later I was down 30 pounds. My confidence picked up, I started being less afraid to talk to people I didn't know well, I made friends easier-- crazy how they actually thought I was fun to be friends with!
My senior year of college I was going to the gym at Purdue and doing the things 20 year olds do-- a fitness class here or there, elliptical machine. One day, I decided to sign up for a half marathon - the mini marathon in Indianapolis. It sounded IMPOSSIBLE! My roommate said she would do it with me. She WAS an athlete - she had played every sport in high school and was a good runner. But she trained with me that spring. Every weekend, we kept each other accountable when our sorority sisters were going out. She would run way ahead of me but I would see her and keep going. We finished that race that May of 2004 and I said when I finished .. "I will never do that again!". Ha. Joke is on me. ;)
Fast Forward... after I graduated from college the fitness fire started growing STRONG inside of me. I couldn't read enough, learn enough. I wanted to try everything. I contemplated changing my major 10 times. After graduation, I ran another half marathon, and was so much stronger! Then I did another one. And another. I went to the gym, spin classes, kickboxing classes, weight lifting. I decided to get certified as a personal trainer and worked as one as I was in graduate school and even after I had my full time job as a social worker. I got certified in a bunch of group fitness classes. Little shy Mandy who couldn't run a mile at age 20 was suddenly leading classes and helping others. It was a surreal feeling. Those that met me during those years never believed I didn't come from a lifetime of athleticism.
Fitness became a lifestyle for me. I transformed from the inside out. I have some pretty crippling anxiety - and also adult diagnosed ADHD. Exercise is my #1 coping skill. I carried and gave birth to 2 wonderful children and continued to exercise during this time. When my youngest was 2, I took a giant leap and opened a small fitness studio with friends - but unfortunately the studio was an expensive project that we weren't quite ready for. Onward.
I met my triathlon coach at a soccer game. Our girls played soccer together. I saw her in an IRONMAN jacket and was immediately intrigued. I was a lifeguard in the summers of high school and college, so I knew how to swim, although never had proper technique training. I loved to run. I liked spin classes but didn't own a bike outside of my mountain bike from age 12. I originally hired her to help me become a better runner. I was still a 2ish hour half marathoner, following cookie cutter plans online. I told her how I wanted to run a marathon but wasn't sure I really could. I also told her I wanted to "try" a triathlon. She smiled. We got to work. The first week of training I was like "WHAT IS THIS!" haha! But I followed it to a T. First 6 months of working with her, I PR'd my half marathon by 8 minutes, completed my first triathlon, and did my first marathon in 4:23.
It took off from there. Since then, I have done enough half marathons I do not know how many. I have completed 2 full marathons (second one I took 45 minutes off!). I have completed 5 70.3 triathlons, numerous smaller races, where I have even podiumed (WHAT? ME?!)... and am going to Ironman Arizona this weekend. I am also now certified as a USAT Level 1 Coach and Ironman Coach. There is not much I love doing more than helping others.
So... moral of sharing my story is this: We all have a journey. You do not have to be a lifelong athlete to run a half marathon, a marathon or become a triathlete. You can be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70. Not everyone wants to do run races, triathlons or any sort of competitions. And that is okay, too! But: I do encourage you to try the things you wonder about. Life is short and you might not realize who is under there if you don't get to know her. Don't let your self-doubt scare you away from trying. There is no failure in these journeys. If you would have asked 15 year old me that I would be here today? I would have laughed. 20 year old me would have laughed at you too...remember I said "never!". :) I am so glad I know the athlete I am now...and my journey is just beginning!
The next part of this story is my injury that sidelined me for half of a year. I will save that for the next blog post... :)
Thanks for reading.