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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Beliefs, Ramblings and Various Musings