From couch potato to triathlete: a success story

I’ve never been an athlete.

That’s not to say I’ve never tried.

Growing up, I tried ballet, soccer, cheerleading, basketball and martial arts (I have a yellow belt in Hapkido, so don’t even think about trying to mess with me.)

I even joined my high school’s cross-country team because it was a no-cut sport.

Turns out, XC wasn’t for me: On the first day of practice, I showed up with a donut in one hand and a chocolate milk carton in the other, nearly passed out when I learned we had to run 1.5 miles without stopping, and then proceeded to cheat on the run by skipping two laps.

I quit the team the very next day. Yep, I was a proud member of the Hinsdale Central Girls’ Cross-Country Team for a grand total of one day. I was a real champion.

The fact that I didn’t play a sport throughout high school never really bothered me. Instead, I worked out on my own.

Nothing too intense, just a jog here and some light weightlifting there. You know, the usual.

So it was a surprise to my family and friends when I became a runner. A real runner, complete with a fly pair of Brooks, cute Nike workout tops, orthotics, a pink iPod shuffle, a distance watch and enough energy bars to propel me through an Ironman.

The transformation happened at the end of my senior year of high school. Inspired by friends who had previously completed the Chicago Marathon, I began to run. And run. And run.

Just a few months after I began, the running caught up with my shins and I was sidelined.

I cried and whined and pouted in the beginning. “You don’t understand!” I wailed to my parents, “I need running. There’s nothing else I can do!”

Then I met biking. It was a different type of thrill, but finishing a 20-mile bike ride somehow felt just as amazing as completing a 6-mile run.

When my thighs began to ache from too many miles on my bike, I simply dove into the pool. Swimming was tough for me in the beginning;

I had to figure out which technique worked best. But when laps in the pool became a routine, I did the inevitable: I signed up for my first sprint triathlon.

The race was at the end of July, so I spent the weeks leading up to it in intense tri-training mode. I swam and biked, and, when my shin splints finally healed, I ran.

I didn’t want to merely finish the triathlon; I wanted to get a good time, too.

But I got much more out of that race than just a time. Somehow, I enjoyed the 300-yard swim. I smiled during the 10-mile bike portion. And during the 5K run, I was nearly euphoric.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t let that be my first and last triathlon.

When I arrived on campus and learned about the Tri-the-Illini sprint race, I signed up right away.

That triathlon was a bit harder: 300-yard swim, 14.5-mile bike ride and a 5K run. But I was determined to do it.

So this past Sunday, I gave it my all as my wonderful friends cheered me on. And when I got to that finish line, all I could do was throw my hands up in the air and celebrate.

I wasn’t just celebrating the fact that I survived the race. (I seriously was surprised that I did, though. Biking through the cornfields with the wind blowing against me for 14.5 straight miles wasn’t easy.) I was celebrating my transformation. Somehow, I had gone from couch potato to triathlete.

If only my cross-country coach from freshman year could see me now.

_Melanie is a freshman is Media._