Somehow, last year I found myself in a triathlon shortly after my forty-fourth birthday. All my life I have not considered myself athletic, but I had bouts of activity like horse-back riding (dressage) in 6th-8th grade, some running and cycling at Oberlin College, and biking around hilly Marseille when I didn’t have a driving permit. In high school I considered myself kind of marginal. I practiced cello a lot (up to four hours a day), got straight A’s, danced punk in the basement of the Unitarian church, but I never did competitive sports. In college I took bowling for Phys. Ed. credit, and one roommate got me to sign up for swimming at 7 a.m. She dropped, I kept at it. Little did I know my name would become so famous in the swimming world.
So how did I find myself spewing out reservoir water, biking in the rain and running a 5k through the woods at middle age? Good question. I am going to attempt to answer that, or take a stab at it, in this blog.
In music I’ve never considered myself to be highly competitive. I don’t audition well, I over-analyze and think about what I’m playing, and I’ve always thought of myself as musical, but not a good technician. However, I have drive. A drive that comes from deep down; a drive that held me to the practice room when my father passed away my first semester of college and kept me going through my doctoral program as a single-mom during a heart-wrenching divorce. (My son’s father lives in France. )
I’ve realized that hard work pays off. Confidence comes through training. Perseverance takes courage and a lot of time, but I found that strength inside me. I was surprised. Shy, sweet, Amy has a tough inner lining! In music it is important to sit back and enjoy the technique you’ve built, and trust it. I can hide behind the cello and become King Solomon (Schelomo), or a Prussian prince (Haydn), or whatever I want. This can help in so many situations in life if you know how to cultivate that confidence.
This still doesn’t explain how I found myself grueling out a sprint tri last Sept. 18 in really awful weather conditions (50 degrees and rain.)
I started running a few years ago with the support of a friend who also wanted to run again. That friend, Katie, is now about to run her first marathon and has a great blog of her own. Another friend, mentor, and teacher, Tony, also did triathlons and mostly I thought he was nuts in the beginning. That was his thing, as I was plodding away and trying to increase my run times. He is now about to do his first Ironman and is a great workout buddy, as well as Katie. Two years ago, I surprised myself by encouraging my friends to sign up as a group for a race, my first ever! I did races with my son, and increased my distances to 10k. That felt incredible. My running buddy spoke of a half-marathon, but I felt stretched and pushed; happy to plateau with that accomplishment. In the back of my mind, I toyed with just what I could accomplish.
Then it hit. Horrible tendonitis due to an old sledding accident with my son Paul. My right ankle became so painful that daily things like mowing the lawn, walking around, or even cooking became painful. I am a wholistic type, so I first tried PT, rest, ice, ibuprofen, even though the surgeon I saw was skeptical that it could work. But I had come to love running. Only runners can embrace the endorphins you get, the happiness at being outside. Plus, my dog had become addicted, as well!
So I began to cross- train: bike and swim. A man I was seeing at the time was an excellent runner and would do multiple workouts. At first I thought he was slightly insane, but I admired him a lot. He encouraged me in my efforts and pushed me in a very positive way. I loved doing long bike rides, borrowing another Katy’s (just call all my friends Kate, Katy or Katherine and you’ll do fine) road bike and even used my mountain bike to explore the Iowa countryside. I felt empowered and really enjoyed biking to the pool, swimming, and then biking home. My stress levels were high as I had recently earned my doctorate, but still didn’t have a full-time job. Many times I felt like “I didn’t have time to exercise, ” but I noticed when I dropped everything and made time, I became much more productive. For years the lovely ladies at student health had encouraged me (“just try walking 10 minutes a day”) on top of my 10 hour a day playing schedule in grad school. I realized I finally had time–I just needed to scoop out some “me” time every day. I realized I could push hard on my own and that dual workouts (called “bricks” in triathlons) were really satisfying.
There were rewards–losing almost 30 pounds. Feeling 10 years younger. Not wheezing when I went upstairs. The feeling when I crossed the finish of my first triathlon was as if I were in someone else’s body–a triathlete!
Today I had my second swim lesson. Part of this whole process is seeing it as that: a process, not an end. I am not competing with anyone else but myself. I took a lesson not because I can’t swim, but because I want to be more efficient in the water. My butt sags a little, I pull to the side instead of straight down. Only a teacher (not websites!) can show you this. As a teacher myself, I also need the reminder that it is really hard to focus on several things at once. You need to relax and not think about perfection or performing, but just concentrate on change.
That is why I tri: change. I want to keep transforming, challenging and being more than I ever thought I could. I am happier than in years, and I plan to continue challenging myself and growing as a mom, teacher and cellist, as well as an athlete.
More to come on my new goals as I recover from ankle surgery! Thanks for reading.