Twenty years ago, I did first sprint triathlon as a part of a relay team. This was so long ago, I don’t remember the names of my teammates. I volunteered to do the bike portion. Running and biking weren’t a problem for me, but I doubted I could survive (or even master) the open water swim.
It took me three years to decide that I’d like to try doing a sprint distance triathlon alone. I signed up for swimming lessons, figuring I could use a refresher course. My goal was to survive the triathlon’s swim portion so I could get onto the biking and running. The coach announced he was offering a triathlon training weekend. Desperate to feel more comfortable swimming in open water, I signed up.
I remember getting in the lake for the first time, knowing I was going to swim and not just splash around. It was so dark and murky. What was I thinking? I swam very nervously, slowly picking up one arm and moving it forward over my head. I was moving, but barely.
And then something clicked. During our pool workouts, our coach said, "Do not look down at the bottom of the pool. Tilt your head up and keep your eyes looking forward at your hands." Until this moment, I never understood the point of this instruction. In this cold, dark lake, the only thing I could see were my hands.
Suddenly, his advice made perfect sense. My hands were something I could see through the pea soup, something I could focus on and my anxiety level dropped. I took another stroke, and then found a great rhythm and I wasn't terrified anymore.
Looking back, I realize that moment taught me that no matter our age, we can always learn something new. It helps to have a good teacher and I will always be grateful to my first swim coach, Doug, for sharing the one technique that made the difference for me.
I keep this lesson in the back of my mind and keep pushing myself to try new things.
In February, I went skiing in Utah with my sister and a few cousins. Three of us decided to try something called skate skiing. It’s supposedly a great cardio workout and we thought, “No problem, we know how to ski.” Not so fast. Sue, our patient instructor, told us that we were doing great. I strongly disagreed. My body was flailing and tired and I was frustrated. I was not having anything resembling fun.
After our lesson, Sue let us loose on a 3 kilometer groomed track. All I wanted to do was make it safely around the track (and get in the hot tub). During the last 100 yards, I finally felt all the instructions from the lesson sink in. If I wasn't so fatigued, I might have been up for another loop.
While I was struggling with the skate skiing, I thought back 17 years ago to my first triathlon in Upstate New York. Scared and panicked, I couldn’t imagine completing the half-mile swim portion of a race. I wanted to turn back. But then I saw my hands and started to relax. So, I enjoyed the skate skiing for what it was, a new experience, a new challenge and potentially something that I could get better at in time.
As a triathlon coach for first time triathletes, I am constantly reminding myself about these experiences and the lessons I learned from them. Most things don’t come naturally. Many things are humbling. However, there are few things more rewarding than succeeding when you challenge yourself.
So, make this year the year you try something new. Remember, you're never too old to try something new. You may be humbled. You may get frustrated. But, you’ll learn something and you might, just might, have fun.