I signed up for my first triathlon nine years ago. My 16-month-old daughter, Hayden, had just been diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome (AS), a rare genetic disorder that affects one in every 15,000 births. As Hayden pushed herself every day to learn how to stand, to walk, to communicate using assistive devices (she is nonverbal), and even eat, I challenged myself with learning the sport of triathlon. I wanted to use the sport to help raise money and awareness for her condition.
I soon discovered that triathlon became a metaphor for our life. I wasn’t a natural swimmer, so learning proper swim techniques was a challenge for me. Swimming in a race was new territory to navigate, similar to the special-needs world I had been thrown into. Just when I thought I had figured out the swim, a wave would splash me in the face or I would get kicked by another swimmer fighting for space in the water.
Here’s the thing I’ve discovered with swimming: No matter how hard you get pummeled, you have to keep moving your arms and legs or you will sink to the bottom, just like in life. Many days I want to throw in the towel, but I have a child who needs me to not only care for her, but be her voice, to fight for her and help her reach her full potential—so I have to keep moving forward.
I’ve always loved the outdoors. I grew up riding bikes with friends around the small Georgia town where I grew up. I learned how to mountain bike while dating my husband, who has become my training partner and biggest cheerleader on this journey. Little did I know that something I did for fun on the weekends before having a family would help pave the way for not only mental therapy sessions in the woods, but also success in the sport of triathlon.
Learning how to race on a bike was work, but it was such rewarding work, just like overcoming daily challenges and not giving in until they are figured out. Grinding away over steep, rocky terrain with burning lungs and straining legs is incredibly hard, but unbelievably rewarding once you reach the top of a mountain and look back on where you came from to get to where you are now.
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