How Tragedy Helped Me Become

How Tragedy Helped Me Become

by Kelli Z.

On June 10th I participated in the ET Batavia Triathlon.  I also celebrated my first year as a triathlete.  How does a wife and mother of two small kids work full time and call herself a “triathlete?”  Well, I may not be a spokesperson for energy bars or running shoes but I think I am like the majority of triathletes competing today.

My journey started out of grief and a desire for personal growth.  After losing my sweet little 3 year old neighbor, Aidan, to a brain tumor, I felt the need to pour energy into something positive and to honor his memory.  I had always admired my dad for his dedication to triathlon over the past 25 years and thought maybe I could combine the sport with fundraising to achieve my goal.  So, I talked it over with my husband and he agreed to give me the support I needed to introduce triathlon training into our schedule.  This meant leaving the house at 4:30 in the morning, a couple days a week, so I could get workouts in before work.  He would juggle caring for our newborn son and 16 month old daughter with his work schedule (can I just say how amazing and supportive my husband is?!) so that I could focus on workouts.  I signed up for SheRox and started to train the only way I knew how: running and biking (confession: not too much swimming).  I had many hurdles to overcome.  I had not been very physically active since before I had children and honestly never enjoyed running for sport.  I was slow.  I felt frustrated and wanted so badly to fast forward to the reward phase where I could actually learn to run without feeling like I had to walk to catch my breath.  I had feelings of guilt for leaving my kids to exercise.  I wanted to quit.  When negativity would creep into my head, I thought of Aidan and other kids dealing with pediatric brain tumors who fight for their lives every day with amazing courage and grace.  With that motivation, I could certainly suck it up and get through the temporary pain of a 3 mile run.  I cried through many miles.  As my body got stronger, my mind followed and running became a therapeutic outlet.

Then, in June of 2011, I completed my first triathlon and raised nearly $1000 for pediatric brain tumor research for Aidan’s Army.  While the emotional feeling of accomplishment and pride for finishing SheRox was amazing, I wondered if I would ever really know how to properly train for a race.  Was there more to this sport?  Enter Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon

I met Coach Joe at the Expo for SheRox and instantly liked the idea of training with a team.  This was exactly what I was missing!  I grew up playing soccer and always had a coach and teammates.  I checked out the website and saw lots of smiling faces so I decided to sign up.  My first encounter with the team was at Centennial Beach for the open water swim clinic.  Coach Suzy took me under her wing and made me feel very welcome.  Over the next few months I attended a social outing and signed up for Run to Become with Coach Joe.  I enjoyed the workouts but the mental exercise really kept me engaged.  I knew that Marge and Tanya would be there Thursday mornings at 5:30 am so I better not let them down.  The next piece of the puzzle was to incorporate personal coaching.  Coach Joe and I sat down to create a plan and outline my goals and I haven’t looked back since!  I trained all winter with Coach Joe at the helm.  I enrolled in CompuTrainer classes and continued with running and swimming as my plan directed.  I was able to focus on my family and work life and left the workout planning to Coach Joe.  In Feb, March and April, I participated in the ET indoor triathlons.  In May, I participated in my first outdoor tri of the 2012 season, TriAncilla, in Indiana.  Prior to that event I decided to purchase a wetsuit and take some private swim lessons with Coach Joe.  He helped me identify quick improvements in my swim technique and squashed all my fears about wearing a wetsuit.  He even took the time for a tutorial and practice run at the pool.  I cannot tell you how fun it was to swim for the first time in that wetsuit!!  I felt like a superhero and COULD NOT STOP SMILING.  For those of you wondering, it is very difficult to swim and smile.  Also, I probably looked ridiculous.

I even ran my first 10 mile race on Memorial Day weekend.  When I look back, I can’t help but think how running ONE MILE was daunting for me.  Now, I can say I’m a runner.  It took nearly a year for me to be able to say that.  On top of that, I have lost about 40lbs and feel healthier than I have in a very long time.

Fast Forward to the ET Batavia Triathlon, June 10th, 2012.  I had been fundraising for Aidan’s Army for this race, but not alone.  This year, the team grew to six dedicated people (including four first timers, one of whom is Aidan’s mom).  Together we raised $8000.00 for pediatric brain tumor research.  Because of my involvement in the sport of triathlon, I was able to stand at the quarry that morning knowing that whatever happened that day, I had already succeeded.

On a personal level, I had struggles and victories.  The struggles were stomach cramps and overheating on the run.  I choose to focus on the victories, though.  I rocked that swim!  I was cutting through the water and loving it- that was a major improvement for me.  I felt really strong on the bike.  There were no nerves (thanks to all the Wednesday night ET rides) when passing other riders or being passed by vehicles.  I had so much confidence because I knew that I was physically and mentally prepared for this day.  I loved seeing all the familiar ET faces on the course as volunteers and participants.  I had so much fun!  On top of that, I received many complements on my new hot pink compression socksJ.  At the finish line, I was greeted by the ET cheer crew and celebrated with my husband, kids, parents and Aidan’s Army fundraising team.  I was part of something great and that is an amazing feeling.  I introduced four people to the sport of triathlon and got to experience their joy.  It is pretty hard to focus on any negatives with a race experience like that.

So many people think of endurance sports as “individual” focused events.  That may be accurate when you get your results but it is powerful to think about all the people who are out there supporting you.  I would not be where I am today without the support of my husband and kids, my extended family, my training buddies and coaches.  On top of that, the many people who give their time in support of these events and those who give their dollars in support of charitable causes.  Thanks so much to all of you who have helped me become a better person, a runner and ultimately, a triathlete.  I owe a special thank you to Aidan’s parents, Kitty and Ron. Because of them I will never take my life and the gifts that it offers for granted. They are passionately dedicated to helping kids and families affected by pediatric brain tumors. I am honored to share in their meaningful mission.

 

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  • What an amazing story Kelli. I’m so touched by this and so proud of what you have become. Your path shows us that there is so much more to triathlon than time splits and awards. That it’s also about life and our journey through it. Our quest to help others and in the process become all we are meant to be in training, racing and life. I’m honored to support your journey.

  •  What an amazing story Kelli.  I’m so touched by this and so proud of what you have become.  Your path shows us that there is so much more to triathlon than time splits and awards.  That it’s also about life and our journey through it.  Our quest to help others and in the process become all we are meant to be in training, racing and life.  I’m honored to support your journey.

  • Alyse

    Congrats on all that you have accomplished! What a healthy way to grieve. You are really an inspiration to all of us. Aidan is smiling down on you:)

  • Tina Jones

    Wow! Amazing and touching story! Congrats to you and your accomplishments. You have an amazing husband for supporting you!

  • Marge

    As Lou Holz said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

    You found a way to help yourself and kids with brain tumors.  I’m enjoying working out with you and watching you grow and “become”.

  • Lee A.

    Nice article Kelli! It was an honor to be a part of Team Aidan’s Army with you this year. I owe a thanks to you for introducing me to triathlon. I can certainly identify with the struggles of the working mom/ athlete. But I knew I was doing something right when I saw my 6 yr old holding his cheer sign,so excited for his mom!

  • Sarah F.

    Amazing story, Kelli–it gave me goosebumps to read it! We just have the most amazing people on our ET team, as your story punctuates so well. Thank you for sharing Aidan’s memory, and his family, with us. And thank you for being an inspiration to us all!!

  • TanyaL11

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Kelli. It truly brought me to tears. I really enjoy our Thursday morning ‘runnings and becomings’ and I’m looking forward to many more to come!

  • Cathy Obordo

    Kelli – You are an amazing person!  You are an inspiration to us all and you help us learn to appreciate life because sometimes we do take it for granted.  Great job and congrats on your accomplishments!!

  • Kelli you are one kick-ass kind of triathlete!

  • WOW, Kelli!  I learned SO much about your journey through your story, and it left me with a lump in my throat and warmth in my heart!  You have clearly inspired many people in your (to date!) short triathlon career, and knowing you, you will inspire countless more in the years to come!!!  Congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished in a short period of time, Kelli.  You are an inspiration to us all!!!  P.S.  LOVE the pink compression socks!!

  • Natalie

    Wow! What a great story. I’m pretty new to the ET group and can’t wait to meet you at one of the ET group trainings.

  • Kelli Z

    Thanks so much for all your positive comments! I was nervous to write about my journey. Thank you to all of you who keep me mentally engaged, you are all amazing role models!