Writing My Story-Wicks
by Kirsten W.
From an early age my dad always told me everything that happens in life is part of your story. Sometimes things are going to happen to further your story in the direction that you had planned, while other times things are going to happen in your life that are going to deter your story and send you down a new path. At this point you are the only one who can decide how that new path ends or how it leads you back to where you want your story to go. Here is my story.
Chapters 1-12: Sports, Sports and More Sports
My story has always involved athletics. From as far back as I can remember my parents had me involved in sports. Whether it was swimming, soccer, t-ball, softball, basketball or volleyball, I was always involved in something athletic. I loved it and knew athletics would always be a part of every chapter in my story. When I was 12 I was introduced to volleyball for the first time and I loved it! At the age of 13 I made the decision to give up all of my other sports and totally devote myself to volleyball.
Chapters 13-17: Volleyball is Life
After deciding volleyball was the sport for me, from the ages of 12 to 17 I played for one of the most prestigious clubs in the country. We practiced or played 6 days a week from December until July. I spent more time with my teammates than I did my family and even on our days off we found a way to either workout or see each other. During my time playing for this club I learned many things about life that I would carry with me throughout my remaining chapters. I learned what being a teammate meant and what it meant to work hard. I learned what it was like to receive tough love from a coach after a disappointing tournament or performance. I learned there was a “typical volleyball body type” and that was not me. I also learned what the extra treatment was going to be because I was not the “typical” body type. I learned what sacrifices were and the importance of not cheating on them. I learned about responsibility, time management and how I worked best in an environment where workouts were scripted and most of my time was planned for me. During these years I met some of my best friends in life who I consider family to this day because we went through many challenges and hard times, but also many successes. During these years the hard work didn’t seem like hard work to me because despite not being the “typical” body type, the skills came easy to me and my ability to play at a high level could not be denied. I had an identity and knew who I was: I was Kirsten Wicks the talented volleyball player.
Chapters 18-19:College Volleyball Dreams Come True
While playing at this club I was able to earn myself a full ride to play volleyball at the University of Colorado and would start my story there in August 2007. When I made the decision that volleyball would be my only sport I wanted this part of my story to end with me playing 4 years of college volleyball. In April 2009 my talented volleyball player identity was stripped from me when we hired a new coach at Colorado and she cleaned house. By this time my love for the game had disappeared. I elected to not transfer to a new school to play and continue to write my volleyball story and knew this chapter had come to an unplanned abrupt end. I was lost. I had no idea what was next or what I was going to tell people since everyone knew me as a volleyball player. I felt like I had no identity.
Chapters 20-22: Redefined College Athlete
After deciding that I was going to stay in school at Colorado I had a strength coach who knew me well and suggested I try out for the track team. He was able to speak to the track coaches and get me a try out. I had never done anything in track in my life but was willing to learn and had the strength and athletic foundation. I still remember sitting in the track coach’s office in tears explaining my story and why I was interested in track. I told him that I loved to compete, be challenged and wasn’t afraid of the time commitment or what I would have to sacrifice to be on the team. I told him that I wasn’t afraid of hard work, would put in extra time if needed and that I would do anything to be a part of a team again. Over my last three years of college I competed on the track and field team as a thrower and could not have been happier. Finally I had an identity and was able to continue my story, not 100% how I had imagined, but I was still a college athlete and got to compete at a very high level.
Chapters 23-25: Oh, A Triathlon Sounds Fun
Upon graduating from college I again found myself without an identity. I was no longer Kirsten Wicks the college athlete and knew that I had to find something new. I joined a CrossFit gym and was instantly hooked. I loved the brutal workouts, had a great group of friends there and was super fit. In my heart I knew there was still something missing. In January of 2014 my dad called me up randomly and suggested we do a triathlon that summer. I was living in Kansas City at the time and found a Sprint triathlon that May. I had no idea how to train, was riding a mountain bike, hadn’t been in the pool in years, and could barely run a mile but I was in! I had the time of my life and during this race a little piece of my heart came to life again and I knew I had found something I loved and a partner to do it with, my dad. Over that summer I did a few Olympic distance races leading up to my first Half Ironman that August. I followed the same training plan for that half, if you even call it that, of barely training, not following any prescribed schedule, not really sure what I was doing but knowing I needed to be in Benton Harbor, Michigan by Friday at 5pm. My first half was a learning experience, but I finished it with a smile on my face and was already looking to sign up for my next race. After finishing the Half Ironman I had an identity again – I was a triathlete – but there was still something missing, the team bonding and comradery.
Chapter 26: Almost Getting Lucky in Cozumel
In 2015 I would attempt my first full Ironman. My dad was signed up for Madison that September and I “thought” if I was going to train with him all summer why not race that year. I pulled the trigger and got the family to head to Cozumel that November to race. Over that summer I didn’t train with my dad, but instead would dabble here or there with each of the three disciplines. I did a few half IMs over the year, but never had a true plan. I was training alone most of the time since I prioritized other things like my friends, going out drinking, traveling every weekend instead of training when I was offered the opportunity. As the race got closer I would cram in “heavy” training weekends since I knew I needed to get in mileage and then I would be hurting for the entire week after. I repeated this process every other week expecting one day that it would get easier. Upon arriving in Cozumel I was excited for the race. Clear water and downstream point to point swim- I’ve got this. Flat 3 loop bike course with some wind for one 14 mile stretch on each loop- no problem. Flat 3 loop run through town- how hard can it be? I had a great swim that day. Once on the bike my day started to change. When I hit that wind for the first time I almost cried. My legs were shot, I had no idea how to shift and I just stayed in my big ring and cranked for 14 miles into a 25-30mph head wind/cross wind. When I came around on the bike for the second loop I had a mechanical issue with my bike and walked it 1.5 miles back to the aid station where a bike mechanic was. Once fixed I knew I had one more lap left and remember pulling up to my family in tears wanting to tap out since I was exhausted. I finished the bike missing the cut off by 15 minutes, but they still let me out on the run so I went. After one loop of the run I called it a night because I was hurting and mentally I was not prepared at all. I told myself why suffer through the next 2 laps of the run if you aren’t going to get a time and my dad was out racing and it was more important for me to see him cross the finish line. I was disappointed with myself because I thought I had trained for the race and thought that my mechanical issue was the ONLY reason that I missed the bike cut off and if I could avoid that next race I would finish.
Chapter 27: Insanity in Louisville
I followed the same training plan for Louisville that I did for Cozumel since the bike mechanical issue was the reason I didn’t finish, right? I did a few half IMs that summer, joined as many bike rides as I could, but as far as a consistent training plan or group I didn’t have one. Race day came and I knew at that start line that I was not prepared. Something inside me felt different and was telling me that I had no business starting that race. Since I had paid for it already I figured why not give it a go maybe I will get lucky if I don’t have a mechanical issue on the bike. I swam decent in Louisville, but once I got on the bike it became very clear how unprepared I was. After 72 miles of pure torture of hills that I had no idea how to ride, crying to myself numerous times throughout the course and trying in my head to figure out the quickest way back to town I pulled into an aid station and told them I was done. I remember sitting in the grass waiting to get picked up at mile marker 72 telling myself that something needed to change. I needed to respect the distance. I told myself that you can’t just like the idea of being an Ironman you need to be willing to put in the work to be an Ironman and earn it.
Chapter 28: Madison: Where I Learned To Love The Process
After the disappointment, if I can even call it that since I am not sure what I was upset about, of Louisville subsided I decided to make a change. I called Brett Ward, a family friend who I had known since my 13 year old volleyball days, and asked him about the tri club that he was a part of that he talked so highly of. We met for coffee in late January and after hearing Brett talk for 5 minutes about Experience Triathlon I knew that this was a club I needed to be a part of. That next week I called Coach Joe, the owner of ET, and told him I was interested in hiring a coach. In February of 2017 I started working with Coach Suzy with the goal of finishing IM Wisconsin that September. I knew we had a lot of work to do and she put me right to work. I immediately fell in love with the structured workouts and accountability that came with them. I loved my new teammates, many of which I would shortly consider family. I learned again to love brutal workouts. Training became enjoyable and I started to love the process of becoming an Ironman the ET Way and soon all the training didn’t even seem like work. I now started to understand what it meant to respect the distance and how the Ironman title was truly earned never just given. I gained immense confidence in myself, something that I had not had since I was 17 years old. During the training for Madison I can honestly say that I fell in love with the triathlete lifestyle. When race day came I was calm, I knew I was prepared and I knew that I had earned a spot on that starting line the next morning. On race day I swam well, biked well enough to make the bike cut off (which I had never done before) and got to the run with life still in my legs. About 5 miles into the run I started to have major stomach issues. Despite everything I tried I was unable to settle it down and eventually tossed in the towel at the half way mark since at that point my avg. pace was much quicker than anything I could deliver based on my condition. Despite again my day ending in a DNF I had achieved 2 of the 3 goals I went into the day with: making the bike cut off and getting off the bike with life in my legs.
Chapter 29: Texas I am Hungrier Than Ever
Before I even raced Madison I had already signed up for Texas the following April. I took a few weeks to deal with my Madison disappointment and worked with ET Team Dietitian, Laurie Schubert, and Coach Suzy to figure out what might have went wrong with my nutrition the days leading into Madison and on race day that caused my issues. In November training officially picked back up again. I had a different focus to my training this time. Having just come off properly training for an Ironman I knew what I was getting into. I approached every workout with a smile and a positive attitude and knew come race day they would all be worth it. My training for Texas was the most spot on it has ever been, despite most of it being inside. I learned to love ET Computrainer classes and spent most of my Sunday and usually some of my Saturday there. I learned how to love the treadmill and to run without music. The 6 months of training for Texas didn’t seem like work and I owe that to many of my ET family members who helped those long Computrainer classes fly by. I paid way more attention to the nutrition I took in each day of training and made sure it was as close to race day as possible. I fixed my run issues and was able to do most of my long run and brick sessions issue free which boosted my confidence that I would not have a Madison repeat on the Texas run course. In the final days leading up to April 28th I was able to fall asleep without playing scenarios in my head like I did most nights before Madison. My body was ready, my mind was ready, but most importantly my heart was ready to conquer the distance. Training for an Ironman is always an emotional process for me and race day was no different. During body marking race morning a volunteer asked me what race this would be for me. I broke down into tears telling her that this would be the first race I finished. She and another volunteer immediately hugged me and asked me if they could pray for me. They held me tight for 2-3 minutes while we prayed and then both looked me in the eyes and told me today was my day. After drying my tears I gave my dad a hug, told him to have a great race and I would see him on the course then headed to my corral. I swam well and got out of the water with a huge smile on my face. During the bike I had a plan to keep myself between a 15 and 16 mph average so that I would ensure I had life in my legs on the run. The course is very flat and can get windy so I didn’t want to blow out my legs too early or work them too hard during the bike. My dad finally caught up to me with about 11 miles left so we were able to ride in and get off the bikes together for an awesome family picture. I executed my bike perfectly and got off feeling like my legs never truly worked at all over the 112 miles. When I saw how much time I had left for the run it hit me that tonight I was going to become an Ironman because I had set myself up perfectly. Remember those two girls who prayed for me in the beginning? They were there at the end of the bike cheering me in. My dad and I exited to start the run course at the same time and were able to complete most of the 3 loop course together. It was hot and I knew my body temperature was very high so I planned to walk until the sun went down then run the last 1.5 laps. The spectators were great and those two girls from the beginning of my day cheered their hearts out for me each time I passed them. Not long after starting the 3rd and final loop I could feel that I had formed blisters on the bottom of my feet, but there was no way this was going to stop me this close to the finish line. About mile 18 those blisters opened up and the blood started to fill the front of my shoes turning them from a light purple to a bright red. This is where my heart took over. I was finishing this race even if it meant leaving a blood trail through Texas. At the 25.5 mile mark there was a bell that we rang as we approached the file .7 miles to the finish. The emotions started to set in and I could hear the finish line. As I rounded the corner to the finishers chute I saw my friends and family standing there crying, cheering and jumping around. As I hit the last turn of the chute I hugged our family friend I had walked the course with and started to run. My feet were killing me, blood was dripping out of my shoes, but this was my moment. I stopped to say hi to my family and then I heard Mike Riley say the words I had been waiting to hear for the past 4 years: “Kirsten Wicks from Wheaton, Illinois… YOU… ARE… AN… IRONMAN!” I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face at 15:59:23. 37 seconds faster than my stretch goal time for the race! When I looked up to see who was going to give me my medal I saw standing in front of me one of the girls who body marked me that morning, prayed for me, followed/cheered for me all day and now was placing the medal around my neck. Texas, you were an absolute dream! I feel like I have finally found a sport who doesn’t judge you by your body type. The course judges your preparation, heart and mental toughness. I have found a sport that challenges me in ways that I have never been challenged before and have found my tribe again and the comradery that I was craving for so long. Thank you to the amazing Coach Suzy for getting me ready and to my ET family for all of your support and encouragement! I love you guys!
Chapter 30: The Ironman Journey Continues
I don’t know what the rest of my Ironman career looks like yet, but I do know that it is only just beginning. I have races that I need to go back and finish and more chapters that I need to write!