A lot of triathletes ask about my swimming background and what I did to get so fast in the water. My answer? I have been swimming since I was eight and competed from then onwards, right up until I graduated from Iowa swimming as a competitive distance freestyler. A lot of time and hard work has gotten me to where I am in the water today. Just about anyone might have thought that I loved swimming in college. Most are surprised to hear, however, that I hated college swimming. In fact, a lot of people have told me they don’t understand how I could hate a sport that I was good at. I have my reasons, and it wasn’t until I started competing in triathlons that I started to reflect on my college swimming experience and realize the positive impact that it had on my life.
At Iowa, I swam over 18 hours and clocked around 55,000-60,000 yards a week, surprisingly to most, with little to no improvement in times or performance. That type of investment with little to no return takes a toll on the human body, both mentally and emotionally. When it came to race day, I often quit before I dove into the water. I gave up before I even started. After graduating, I was filled with hatred for the sport of swimming and decided to never get in a pool again.
All sports have their share of ups and downs. As an athlete, you succeed and you fail. Failures can often times be just as commonplace as successes. Normally, the successes are what every athlete strives for. Most athletes don’t expect to invest so much into a sport only to realize failure.
When I swam at Iowa, I couldn’t accept that all I seemed to do was fail or remain “stuck” in the same spot despite the amount of hours I was putting into the sport. It was mentally defeating, and it showed every time I competed. Between the endless hours in the pool and the lack of “success”, I grew to be miserable in the pool. When I graduated and decided to leave behind the sport that I had once loved, I left not knowing if I would ever find a passion for swimming again.
In 2015 I found the sport of triathlon, and it only took participating in one race to ignite a spark in me, a spark I had longed for since leaving behind swimming after college. I instantly found a passion for the sport. The first thing I noticed in spending so many hours training again was that I was now enjoying all of the endless hours in the pool, in the saddle, and on the road.
I no longer felt trapped; I felt free. I felt freer than I ever had in my entire life while playing a sport. I had the power to pursue my passions the way I wanted to. Nothing felt forced or required. There was no requirement on the amount of miles, yards, or hours I had to put into training. I had no limitations and felt as if I could go in any direction I wanted. It was the first time in fifteen years that I had this kind of freedom. This freedom didn’t make me feel lazy or careless; it made me feel quite the opposite. I wanted to endure the challenges the sport entailed, strive to improve, and live to dream in sport again.
All of these realizations came to fruition while training for my first Ironman. I signed up for Ironman Arizona in June 2015, just two weeks after doing my first triathlon—the Esprit de She super sprint triathlon. When I signed up for Ironman I didn’t own a bike and I hardly knew how to ride one. I had done my first triathlon on a borrowed road bike from a friend and wore my running shoes during the bike portion of the race. I had five months to prepare and train for an Ironman with little to no knowledge about the sport, but I wasn’t afraid or intimidated. I had people telling me it was too soon and that I wasn’t going to finish the race, so I should consider waiting another year until I had more experience. It was like swimming all over again, I had people from every direction “forcing” their viewpoints and opinions on me. I ignored all of the negative comments around me and did what I wanted to do. I trained all summer, connected with so many great people, and walked to the starting line with no feelings of doubt. I knew it was going to be a tough day, but I didn’t care. I was where I wanted to be and was ready to take on the challenge.
I hit many dark places during my first Ironman, but I never quit. I was able to get myself through them, and back then I wasn’t sure how, but now I do. Now I know that it shouldn’t be easy. Now I know that there are going to be failures followed by successes. Not every training session or race is going to go the way you want it to go. You are not always going to feel your best. I’ve learned to be accepting of the journey and embrace the failures. More importantly, I learned to enjoy it all again.
I train for triathlon because it makes me feel alive. It makes me feel strong even when I’m weak. Swimming made me feel all sorts of negative; I felt I was never good enough for myself or for my team—and I let those thoughts overcome me. But I think differently since discovering triathlon. I have succeeded and failed in the sport of triathlon, yet I have never wanted to quit like I did with swimming.
I look back now and could never hate swimming, despite how it made me feel. I now look back and thank swimming for what it has given me. I have the strength to overcome my failures. I have the confidence that I will achieve my goals. I have the courage to not give up. I have the desire to enjoy what I am doing. Triathlon has allowed me to find myself, find my happiness, pursue what’s possible, and to enjoy being back in the water again. It only took nearly giving up once to realize I’m never giving up again.