Note: Today we've got a guest post from a local triathlete, Ashleigh. I was so excited that she wanted to share her story as it has inspired me since doing a sprint triathlon is on my fitness bucket list. Take it away, Ashleigh….
Fact #1: I weigh 270 pounds.
Fact # 2: I completed a sprint triathlon and two half marathons in 2013.
Fact # 3: If I can do it, so can you.
No one would look at me and think, “that girl is athletic” or even that I may be physically fit at all. In fact, I think there are some in this world that would look at me and be disgusted with my size. Society’s picture of fitness is often synonymous with thinness. I know so many people who, to look at them, you may assume are fit, but cannot complete a brisk walk without getting winded. But, I know even more amazing plus sized women who are afraid to have fitness goals, afraid to put on their workout clothes because they may be clingy, afraid to try, all because of what the world deems as fit. Although it is often easier to exercise if you have less body weight to move around, “fat” and fit are not mutually exclusive. It is time to come out of hiding, set some goals, and make yourself proud.
I have always been a bigger girl, but I have also always participated in athletic activity. I tried every sport and dance class when I was little. I swam competitively for the YMCA and my high school. I began running—well, maybe jogging would be a more accurate term -5k’s with a group of friends during my beginning years of teaching. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I shouldn’t run at my weight. It is bad for my joints, it is bad for my knees etc. I’ve suffered a few injuries and have been encouraged to stop (not by medical professionals mind you, just people giving their opinions). I don’t see how “running at my weight” is any worse for me than sitting on the couch, not challenging my body and potentially gaining weight. So, I will continue to work out and run and challenge myself until I can’t anymore. Then I will find some other way to exercise because I’d rather “wear out than rust out” as they say.
My triathlon journey goes something like this. I was freaking out about turning 30 this year (which, in retrospect, is not really a reason to freak out at all). I decided to set some goals to help me enjoy my last year in my 20’s. Some, like meet Dolly Parton, were probably not attainable, but others, like start a book club (we’ve met every month this year), were much more realistic. Then I set some fitness goals; among them, complete a half marathon and a sprint triathlon. I ran a half marathon a few years ago, so I knew I could do it, even though I hadn’t been running very much lately. The triathlon, however, was more of a dream. I know tons of people that run, but very few that had completed a tri at any distance. I was a swimmer in high school, so I knew I could do that portion without drowning. I had been jogging, so even if it was slow, I knew I could complete that part as well. The biking part seemed daunting. I know how to ride a bike and I enjoyed it, but 13 miles is a long time to pedal up and down hills. I debated about it for awhile, but eventually my husband encouraged me to sign up for the Elizabethtown Sprint Triathlon in September. Most people I talked to about it told me I was crazy and no one seemed interested in doing it with me. Finally, my very competitive and always-up-for-a-challenge friend Eliza decided to sign up as well, along with her husband Jeremiah. We found a 13 week training plan on http://gotriathamom.com to follow. Although the once a week “brick” workouts of swim/bike or bike/run to get your body used to the transition from one event to the next were grueling, it was still enjoyable. I was good at the swimming part and I didn’t feel as exhausted as when running several days a week training for the half marathons.
The thing is though, I was slow. I completed each bike and run workout, but always at an excruciatingly slow pace. Jeremiah and Eliza were always faster and having to wait on me. I found myself looking at them through society’s lens and telling myself, “If only I was as thin as Eliza, or as athletic as Jeremiah, it wouldn’t be as hard.” But the truth is, it is a triathlon! It is supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, more people would do it. I refused to hide behind my weight and use it as an excuse and told myself I would do my best and complete the tri no matter what.
On the day of the sprint triathlon, I was a nervous wreck. I started to doubt myself. What if I came in last? I looked around to find other “bigger” people in the crowd of participants, but I didn’t see any that I thought were close to my size. Was I crazy to participate in such an elite event? I thought of my running coach friend Krissie who always says to trust your training. I told myself I had trained enough and would finish no matter what.
And I did finish. All 270 pounds of me finished a triathlon. It was hard. I cried just a little after 2 miles of biking up what we will refer to as “the hill of despair.” My 5k was the slowest in the history of the world (ok, not really, but it felt that way), and I even had to walk some. But I finished. And, I wasn’t last. Now I am a triathlete. I met my goal and have never been more proud of myself or felt so physically fit. No one can ever say to me that I am not an athlete because I have the medals to prove it.
Back to Fact #3. I tell people all the time, if I can do it, you can do it. Decide on your goal, tell everyone around you about it so you can’t back out, and then make a plan. You will have bad days when you want to give up, but oh, you will have so many good days where you feel so strong! You will have people that discourage you, or say you aren’t a “real” athlete because you can’t do x y and z, or because you aren’t as fast as ________. But in the end, who cares about those things? What matters is how YOU feel, and if you are proud of yourself.
Only by encouraging other plus size people to come out of hiding and accomplish their fitness goals will we change society’s picture of what a fit person looks like. You can do so much more than you think you can. You body is an amazingly designed machine that can accomplish so much if you challenge it. Love your body, love yourself, and stay active!