Confessions of an Adult-Onset Athlete

Shawnee Mission Triathlon 2008
Shawnee Mission Triathlon 2008

The below article was originally written for Infozine online magazine. Infozine is a free digital magazine with sections on arts and entertainment, business and finance, computers, community, and food. It was the first place my writing was published and I will always appreciate the opportunities it offered.

Sometimes our simple pleasures turn into addictions before we even realize what’s happening.

Hello, my name is Jean and I suffer from Adult-Onset Athleticism. I work out six days a week. I strength train, do yoga and train for triathlons. I think I’m just having fun and staying in shape, but my family sees it a little differently. They seem to feel I’m addicted to exercise and that sometimes they’re neglected as a result. They feel it’s time I deal with my addiction.

It all began so innocently. I can vividly remember the day I knew I had to start working out. I was overweight and inactive and as a result, quite self-conscious about my body. However, that day, I was already undressed and getting into the shower when I remembered I’d forgotten something in the bedroom. I dashed into the bedroom, grabbed what I needed and returned to the bathroom. I will never forget the feeling as I walked down the hall. I was walking in an East-West direction, but my rear-end was going North-South. I decided then and there that while I might never get back to my pre-pregnancy days, I could at least control the amount of jiggle I was afflicted with.

I started out easy. I walked on the manual treadmill we’d been using as a clothes dryer for 10 minutes three times a week. Twice a week I used 5-pound hand weights and a moderate number of sit-ups and push-ups. I watched what I ate and how much I ate. The pounds started coming off, but more importantly, muscles were slowly developing.

I continued this regimen for a few more months and was satisfied with the results and the effort. Then spring came and my three daughters were all running track. I was constantly asking them why they weren’t out running, practicing to improve. They were just as constantly inviting me to get out there and run if I thought it was such a great thing. When I decided I would just do that, my youngest daughter went to the track with me and taught me to run the straights and walk the curves. I loved it! I wasn’t doing a lot of running, but I was running!

Soon, I was running 3 miles three times a week. I started buying exercise machinery so I could do more elaborate weight training. I entered local 5k’s and wasn’t the last one to cross the finish lines. Running a 10k by the time I was forty suddenly became a realistic goal. After that, it just snowballed. A half-marathon was my next goal and everyone knows that once you’ve run a half-marathon, it’s just one more notch up to run a full marathon. With enough training I knew I could do it. I promised my family that all I wanted to do was see if I could finish. I absolutely promised that I would only do this one.

My first marathon was hard and it hurt. I had an asthma attack at mile 20, lost a toenail around mile 24 and staggered across the finish line in 5 hours. I swore I would NEVER run another marathon again. But then, as time passed, I knew I could do better. I was actually happy with my time, but knew I could run a marathon and not be miserable. So, over my family’s protests, (after all, I’d sworn I’d never do another one,) I trained again for a marathon. My second marathon went well. I had a good time and again finished right around 5 hours. My family was thrilled when I promised that would be it. No more marathons.

Pretty soon, though, I started looking for another challenge. After all, my body was used to exercising at least an hour a day, six days a week. There had to be something else out there. There was. They’re called triathlons. Never mind that I couldn’t swim and hadn’t been on a bike since I was 12. With enough training I knew I could do it. I promised my family that all I wanted to do was see if I could finish. I absolutely promised that I would only do this one.

I survived that triathlon, but I am convinced it’s only because God looks after fools and children. I was a danger to every athlete on the course, but everyone I met was still friendly and encouraging. It was a completely different world from running and I loved it. The next night my loved one and I were laying in bed, enjoying the peace and quiet. Very sweetly, he asked me if I’d had a good time at my only attempt at triathlon. Quietly, I told him I loved it. He rolled over and said he was glad I’d had a good time. I then said, no, he didn’t understand, that I REALLY loved it.

I’m now “competing” in my fifth season of triathlon. I still love the sport and can’t imagine not doing it. As I reflect on the road that brought me from chubby couch potato to triathlete, I think it’s not so much working out that I need to cut back on. Instead, I am hereby resolving to quit making rash statements I can’t live up to. That is a resolution I can keep.

Since the original publication of this article ten years ago a lot has changed in my life. I have been single for eight years, I’m working on my 3rd move and I have changed careers three times. I am still able to work out multiple times a day, 5-6 days a week. Unfortunately, due to the combination of an aging body and a herniated disk, I can no longer run or swim. Since those two activities make up 2/3 of a triathlon, that means I’ve had to say good-bye to competing in triathlons.

It literally took me years to adjust to giving up the sport I loved so deeply. The accident that caused my neck injury was my fault and I was not nearly as loving and forgiving of myself as I would have been if it had been someone else’s fault. Finally, after almost four years since the accident, I can read this article with a smile, remembering the joy I once had in participating in sports that shaped so much of my life. I hope you enjoyed reading it too.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of an Adult-Onset Athlete”

  1. Do your daughters know that you were always one of the fastest runners on field day at Porter school!? You always had ribbons!

  2. Those were some very interesting years but I’m glad you were able to do something that made you happy. Now as a mother of three little ones, I understand how important it is to do things for yourself. Also, I’m glad you made the life changes to insure that you’re still around to see your grandchildren grow up and be active in their lives.

What are your thoughts?