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My Triathlon Story is a Little Different from the Norm

My Triathlon Story is a Little Different from the Norm by Jennifer Adams

My triathlon story is a little different from the norm.  I just started this sport this year, 2014, at age 37.  I’m a mother of two young girls and I have Multiple Sclerosis.  Due to leg injuries that have plagued me from overuse, it was suggested that I give triathlons a shot.  I’m a runner and back in the day I used to be a swimmer. 

Let me define back in the day for swimming:  When I was in 7th and 8th grade.  I swam on the JV Swim team.  I was young, but could hold my own against girls that were a couple years older than I was.  Then, in 9th grade, I gave up swimming to run Varsity Cross Country.  Let’s be honest, getting your ‘Letter’ as a freshman was pretty cool.  I ran when I was a sophomore, and then gave up sports all together.  My father had died and I was starting to lose my way.  My senior year didn’t help things.  I had a medical issue that was assumed to be the onset of MS, but wasn’t confirmed. 6 years later I had a severe episode, that’s when I was officially diagnosed.  Sometimes life hands you lemons and you fall apart. 

It was a great many years later that I decided to get my health back in order.  By this time I had a young daughter and wanted to feel better about myself.  I was doing great and then I became pregnant with child number two.  The pregnancy triggered a major relapse.  It started with massive tingling throughout my entire body (except my head), then my hands seized.  I could not use them.  None of the attempts to stop the exacerbation were working, so I was told to ride it out.  My hands slowly came back but the tingling is still present.  Then I had a serious health scare that had me knocking on deaths door almost a year later.  As I lay in the bed after having emergency surgery, I promised myself that I was going to be around for my daughters.  Once I got the okay from the doctor, I started to run.  Let’s be honest, it was more like a walk/jog combo.  But I was moving, so I went with it.  Eventually I ran.  And then I did what I always thought the impossible… I ran a half marathon.  Unfortunately, I was plagued with stress injuries in my legs from over training.  A couple friends of mine were getting into triathlons and I was jealous.  I could still swim, and I could run, but man, I was afraid of the bike.  Not to mention that the thought of transition terrified me.  I would watch YouTube videos, but I was still intimidated.  After running for 2 years, a dear friend who I met at my first half marathon did something extraordinary.  She set up an appointment in January of this year for me at Tom’s Pro Bike and said, “You’re going.”  I purchased a bike at Tom’s Pro Bike, because I was going to do this thing.  I was going to do it.  Now, you have to understand that I had not been on a bike since I was 16.  My husband was out of town on a business trip, I called him up and told him the good news.  He thought I was crazy.

To ease into getting used to the bike, I used the stationary trainer.  I familiarized myself with clipping in and clipping out, changing gears and the different hand positions.  I rode at least once a week for a month, and then I did the unthinkable.  I registered for ECC Kats Sprint Triathlon put on by Score This!  In April I went out on the bike for the first time.  I was terrified and kept thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” But, I made myself ride.  I made myself swim.  I made myself run.  I made myself do bricks.  And I practiced and practiced. 

The day before ECC Kats, a great friend came over and taught me transition.  We used sidewalk chalk.  I took pictures.  I was going to be awful, but at least I was going to look like I knew what I was doing. 

Race day, I can’t eat.  I barely slept.  What am I doing?  I am waiting for my turn to swim and it’s taking every ounce of self-control to not break into tears.  Once in the water, my mind went blank.  I was on autopilot.  I did the race, the whole thing.  I didn’t stop, I didn’t fall, and I finished.  It wasn’t my finest hour, but I was a triathlete.  And then I registered for PAIN.  And I finished that one, too!  Heck, I took 3rd in my age group!  I did a total of 7 Sprint Triathlons this season.  In my last one, I opted to fundraise.  And guess what, next year I’m planning on doing all intermediate distances and one half-iron distance.  Sprints are too short and too fast paced for me.

I’m not the model athlete.  I’m not tiny, I’m not fast, and I’m not young.  I wear my heart on my sleeve.  I give high 5’s and cheer everyone on – EVEN the competitors in my age group!  Don’t believe me, go ask them!  I anticipate an ice-cold beer at the finish line (that’s my vice for a race well done), and I’m known to talk about that beer while I’m racing. I’m not letting the MS define me; I’m defining my MS.  I’m on a mission to break the stigma that is associated with the disease.  The greatest compliment that I receive is hearing the shock of those I tell.  Every story is different, but if this one helps give people the push to do something, anything to get them moving, then I’ve done my job.  Never let a disability stop you or define you, let your actions do that instead.

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