Saturday, 29 June 2013

Getting started. Just take it one step at a time... literally.

I get asked quite frequently, "how did you get into triathlon?" To be perfectly honest I fell into it.

December of 2007 my wife and I went to Mexico for a beautiful holiday. We stayed at a gorgeous resort, with amazing food and unlimited drinks. But despite this perfect setting I was extremely unhappy. I didn't want to go to the pool or lay around with my shirt off because I had gotten fat. I mean really fat. I had finally topped out at 324 lbs. This did not happen suddenly but rather accumulated over time so I didn't really notice. I mean, a pound here, a pound there but ultimately it got to a point where I was just embarrassed.

I made a New Year's resolution on December 31, 2007 that I would go home and join a fitness group of some kind.

                                                Puerto Vallarta, Mexico December 2007  

When we got home my wife Kim contacted a local boot camp group and we started the next week. The first day of boot camp we did some physical testing and took some measurements. The two things that hit me the hardest were that it took me 8 minutes to run a kilometer (.6 of a mile) and my waist had gotten to a monstrous 52 inches. I wasn't putting my belt on with a boomerang just yet but it was a major wake-up call.

Seven years earlier I was a college football player and I had let myself get to a point where basically jogging around the block was a heart attack-inducing venture. We started out with a sweetheart of an instructor name Rebecca and she was the perfect leader for someone like me. I needed someone to show me what to do and push me just a little bit but when I told her that was all I could do she understood and gave me a little space.

Don't underestimate the power of groups. Groups provide you with a few things that trying to "go it alone" won't facilitate. The camaraderie of a group of people all working towards a common goal, whether it be getting into shape or escaping from a maximum-security prison, is a powerful tool. The next is shame. Never underestimate shame. If you know that this group will be questioning your whereabouts if you miss a session it can be the difference between, "ah, missing this one won't matter" and "well, I guess I better go."  Getting into the habit of doing your workout EVERY DAY is so important. If you give yourself the option of missing workouts it becomes easier every time.

By the end of 12 weeks with Rebecca, Kim and I could run a kilometer without walking even a step. This may not seem like much of an achievement but we were ecstatic and I think that's one of the biggest lessons to remember. Celebrate your achievements, don't diminish anything you do.

In addition to boot camp I also signed up for men's league hockey as another form of exercise and this was a fortuitous move as it lead me into triathlon. The first push towards triathlon was a high-ankle sprain. I was skating towards the bench for a line change and my skate blade got caught in a groove in the ice. I turned my ankle and instantly knew I was in trouble. I had a radiating pain up my left leg and could not put any weight on it. I was really depressed because my running had come so far and I knew I was in for some rehab. X-Rays confirmed that it was just muscular and not bone but it was going to be 6 weeks in a walking cast, a week of which was walking around Disneyland. Now it wasn't all bad. Yes, wearing a foam leg cast during the California Summer is hot, sweaty and smells of a fragrant French cheese. But at least you get to line jump at the Matterhorn!

This was a watershed moment for me. Typically I would have returned to my couch and Xbox and sat around complaining about the fact that I couldn't exercise but, "hey, what are you gonna do? I'm hurt." Instead, I took to the pool. Our local pool has a couple of 25m lanes for lane swim and the rest is dedicated to "fun swim." Fortunately I took lessons growing up and was quite a good swimmer so this was going to be easy. I began my first length and started thrashing, gasping and coughing from one end to the other. I would do a length, hang on for 30 seconds and then head back. This was going to be tough!  After healing up I returned to hockey for another shot at my favorite game.

I have always been very competitive but also have a good moral compass. The hockey team I played on was not very good at all, to be blunt we were terrible, so I took on the enforcer role. For my American readers the enforcer in hockey is responsible for protecting the players that actually possess skill. I truly did not start any of the battles I got in to, but once my crazy switch was thrown it was tough to turn it back off.

There were a couple of incidents that lead me to believe that maybe hockey wasn't the sport for me. The first was the game when I ran out of sticks.  After giving up a number of goals early in a game I snapped my stick over the crossbar and went back to the bench and got my backup. The next shift some gomer on the other team decided to play rough with one of my teammates so I came behind him and crosschecked him across the back busting my backup stick into two. When I got back to the bench no one was really impressed by my antics and I was forced out of the game because I no longer had a stick and my teammates wouldn't lend me one.

My final, "ah ha!" moment was the morning after a game. I'm a high school teacher and I showed up to work one morning after having gotten into a hockey fight the night before with a black eye and nursing a hangover. I took a look at myself and realized I was a 27 year old teacher, not a 16 year old punk. What the hell was I doing with my life? Hockey was not for me, I'm too dumb. I still needed a sport to keep myself motivated to exercise so I started looking around at what I could do. One of my co-workers was training for an Ironman triathlon and even though that was WAY TOO FAR for someone like me to do I had been running and swimming and thought maybe a short triathlon would be a good goal.


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