Women’s Wednesday: Adaptation: The #1 Skill Every Triathlete Needs

by Lisa Ingarfield

Our dog Chester has been struggling lately with walking and supporting his back half. He wobbles, and trips, as his legs aren’t quite sure where to land. However, he hasn’t let these new limits on his abilities change his spirit. He is still exuberant, happy, and full of life. His illness has coincided with my own bout of injuries including a suspected stress fracture. We are both hobbling around the house together. At least I have a partner in injury.

There really is no eloquent way to say this: injuries suck. They just do. Everyone who has been injured knows the drill. There is a moment when you start to notice the pain or soreness, and then there is the negotiation that happens. The ‘is it or isn’t it something serious’ conversation in your head. Sprinkle in some denial when the pain gets stronger and many of us continue to swim, bike, and/or run through it until we really wish we hadn’t. While I hobble around in my protective boot frustrated and annoyed, Chester is still wagging his tail a 1000 times a minute. I am supposed to help him outside when he needs to pee, and yet I struggle to keep up with him. I am stumbling over myself and he is dragging me through the lounge, unfazed that he can no longer move as deftly as before.

I have so much to learn from Chester. While his refusal to do what is needed to heal his back is not unlike the runner or triathlete mentality of powering through an injury, he is just so darn happy about it. He has adapted to his new mobility status without as much as a blink. I know that dogs can experience depression and I would have expected to see some sadness from him as he realized that he couldn’t do what he used to. But it has not manifested. For me on the other hand, I am battling the blues and trying to stay motivated to trainer ride and swim, since I can’t do my favorite of the three. While I generally try to find the lessons in my training, and learn from the challenges and barriers I encounter, it is really hard. When our lives are full, motivation isn’t always available by the bucketful. And an injury drills a hole in the bottom of that bucket.

While we can’t all take injuries in our stride like my furry best pal Chester, we can absorb some of our canine friend’s love and zest for life regardless of our temporary limits. We are all temporarily able bodied, yet our world is designed assuming our able bodiedness is permanent. That message is internalized and so when our abilities change, the feelings of inferiority or brokenness can come flooding in. Adaptation is perhaps one of the most important skills a triathlete or any athlete can have. Chester has adapted (for the most part) and is still super happy about everything. As a teammate who herself has spent a lot of time injured shared with me, this is an opportunity for me to increase my skill in the other two disciplines. And she is right, of course, but I am still annoyed to be in a boot. Yet her advice and watching Chester, is pushing me to work on adapting. In life as in a race, we should try to adapt to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Hone this skill, and we can traverse great distances.

Lisa Ingarfield, Ph.D.

Learn more about Lisa at
Tri to Defi Coaching and Consulting