The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 17, 2001

Features

Giving it a 'Tri' Carlisle resident trains for the Danskin Women's Triathlon

If you have seen me out for my morning run on the streets of Carlisle, I guarantee your first thought was not: "Now there goes a triathlete." Granted, I don't look the part of a seasoned athlete. Maybe it has something to do with the panting and wheezing and grimacing as I struggle uphill. Yet here's the surprise: I am a triathlete. And I claim the title by virtue of the fact that I will be participating in my third triathlon on August 26 in Devens.

First, some clarification is in order. This is not the Ironman triathlon, which features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon. I do not possess the ability, stamina or frankly, the desire to tackle such a feat. What I attempt is enough of a challenge for me: a sprint triathlon, featuring a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, and 3 mile run.

I became aware of the Danskin Women's Triathlon series when we lived near Chicago in Naperville, Illinois. The triathlons, held annually in seven U.S. cities, benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Since I was contemplating a milestone birthday (ends in "0") at the time, I decided participating in the race would be a positive way to mark my passage into a new decade. I vowed that I would not approach middle age with a resigned whimper, but with a triumphant wheezeI mean, shout.

Although a lot of people claim to be impressed when I tell them I'm training to do a triathlon, the truth of the matter is that I should be the poster child of "Anybody Can Do This." I was only marginally athletic as a child. And although I did win a gold medal in the Beach Olympics at a Jamaican resort a few years ago, I doubt that the events (rolling a hula-hoop in the sand and running with an almond in a spoon) really proved any athletic ability on my part.

So it came as no surprise when my husband and friends expressed serious doubts following my announcement to attempt my first triathlon in 1998. Although I haven't been a complete couch potato (I have a history of health club memberships with varying degrees of dedication), this was completely out of character for me. Still, doggedly, I began a training regimen and worked myself hard. As the race day approached, they became my biggest cheerleaders. When I doubted, they encouraged. In their eyes, I was a champion already, just for setting the goal and sticking with it.

The race itself was a challenge, but a manageable one. The swimming portion went smoothly as soon as I got used to all the thrashing arms and legs. We were unable to avoid splashing and bumping into one another, but it was amazing how many women were kind enough to apologize. The biking partmy absolute favoritewas a joy. I had the opportunity to look around and actually revel in what I was accomplishing.

Then came the run. Never mind that I was a decent playground sprinter in junior high. In this adult body, with these adult knees, it's torture. And after already enduring the swim and bike portions of the race, the legs felt and acted like ineffectual rubber hoses. But somehow, I lurched to the finish line, to the screams and cheers of family and friends and what was, for me, a huge victory.

One of the mottoes of the Danskin Women's Triathlon Series is: "Finishing is winning," and I couldn't agree more. It didn't matter in the least that I didn't win in my age group, (I came in 37th out of 52) but only that I finished the race. I felt ecstatic, triumphant and strong, like I could accomplish just about anything I set out to do.

For my second triathlon in 1999, I formed a team. I convinced one of my friends to do the swim and another to do the run, while I focused on what has become one of the most joyous re-discoveries of my adulthood: biking. It was a magnificent bonding experience for three sweaty women on a sweltering summer day, with a glorious shared victory.

Last year, I was registered to participate in my third triathlon, but had to drop out at the last moment. Granted, I was a bit distracted from my training with packing and planning to move our family a thousand miles across the country, back home to our native New England. But it was the sinus infection and walking pneumonia (brought on by stress, perhaps?) that ultimately knocked me out of the race.

This year I'm back, strong and determined. My training regimen has been bliss here in Carlisle. The fresh air and beautiful surroundings are incredibly inspiring. My favorite bike ride takes me past two dairy farms, conservation land, horse stables and the cranberry bog, which more than makes up for the fact that I've had to get used to riding on hills again.

Aside from the mental and physical benefits of the race, one of the best parts of participating in the Danskin Women's Triathlon is inspiring other women to give it a try. It's a challenge that's definitely within reach. Everyone tackles the race at her own pace. No one is frowned upon if she has to hold onto a buoy and rest during the swim, or if she would rather walk than run. Finishing is winning, and all finishes are cause for celebration.

At press time there were still openings in this year's race on Sunday, August 26 in Devens (a mandatory pre-race expo will be held on Saturday in Chelmsford). Although organizers will officially close registration at 2000 participants, there are currently about 1700 women signed up. On-line registration is recommended. For more information, visit danskin.com, or call F.I.R.M., the company sponsoring the local event, at 1-508-485-5855.

Even if you don't participate this year, think about it. Maybe by this time next year, you too will be able to say, "I'm a triathlete."


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