Earlier this week, I posted the story of Ironman #3, IM Arizona, which I completed on April 13, 2008. One of the questions people often ask me when they find out I’ve completed not one, but three Ironman distance triathlons is WHY? Completing one seems to be self-explanatory – one of those lifelong goals, something on the bucket-list, being only one of a handful of people in the world who have done it – something along those lines. For me, the story is a little bit different.
When I was younger, I was competitive gymnast until I was 12. I developed some fairly challenging knee injuries and was forced to stop. My doctor at the time told me I had the knees of a 35 year old and that I would never run again. I had been fairly active until that point, outside of gymnastics, including track & field, cross-country and baseball. I believe that doctor and gave up running. I took up swimming and that was my form of exercise for many years.
Years later, when I was about 17 or 18, I saw the Ironman on tv. It was one of those highlight reels – where they show Julie Moss crawling over the finish line. For some unknown reason, I said to my mom, “I’d like to do that one day”. Keep in mind that I hadn’t run in over 5 years at this point.
My undergraduate degree is in Kinesiology, from McMaster. Back in those days we had to do activity practicums in order to graduate. I was able to get a doctor’s note (because of my knees) and be exempt from these activities. Truth is, my knees did hurt – all of the time. In fact, for many years I couldn’t remember a day where I hadn’t woken up with knee pain. I had tried many different treatments over the years, but to no avail. It was definitely frustrating for me – I had grown up so active and enjoyed so many sports – and now, I was exempt from even participating. One of the lowest points for me was when I worked at the McMaster sports camp, and wasn’t able to participate in the daily runs. Some of the staff found this to be quite hilarious and made fun of me, which I didn’t handle very well. I started to realize that there had to be some way for this to change.
My first REAL job after university was working at a physiotherapy clinic in Oakville. I was leading easy exercise classes for women ages 60 – 80 who had osteoporosis. The clinic had two floors, so there were lots of stairs everyday. It got to the point where I was being treated daily in order to work. After 3 months, I quit. One of the most important relationships of my life came out of that experience though. I met Wendy, who was a therapist there at the time, and she treated me for the pain. She also helped me to start on a very easy exercise program to help correct some of the muscle imbalances I had. I started walking on the treadmill, then I would walk for 10 min and run for 1 min. I was so ecstatic! Although I was still in pain, it was manageable and I figured as long as it didn’t get worse, I’d rather be running. I slowly made my way up to running longer and completed my first 5 k race. I was hooked. And as soon as I realized I could run, I knew that I would compete in triathlon and eventually, do my first Ironman.
That summer, 1999, I competed in my first triathlon. It was awesome and I competed in several other races. It took me 5 seasons of training and racing to make it to the start line of Ironman Canada in 2003. My best friend Lee-Anne Chase did the race as well, and we ended up crossing the finish line together. What an incredible journey it was – from not being able to run for 10 years, to an Ironman 5 years later.
Next time, I’ll share with you the lessons I learned on the way to becoming an Ironman. And if you know someone who, like me, struggled with a physical challenge (or still struggles), you are welcome to pass on this story. If I can do it – anyone can!