I have uttered that phase may times when talking with someone about triathlon. Like most people that have been doing triathlons for a long time, most of my wardrobe is made up of race t-shirts, and they are often a conversation starter. So often I hear “Oh, that’s amazing” or “I could never do that,” which are untrue. Just about anybody...with ANY body...can do a triathlon.
Triathlon is about doing the most with our unique body - no matter the size, shape, or abilities. Short, tall, lean, muscular, young, or wise, there is a place for each of us! Our sport includes physically challenged athletes, and I’ve raced with athletes with quadriplegia, skeletal dysplasia, and visual impairments. When I hear someone say they could never do a triathlon, I tell them about my first triathlon.
The first triathlon I ever did was way back in the day before smartphones when I was in college in 2002. It was during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. I was a college football player and not in a skilled position: I was 312 lb offensive lineman. It’s not exactly the body type one associates with triathlon.
I can’t explain why I wanted to do a triathlon other than it simply seemed like fun. Even as a lumbering lineman I enjoyed biking and I tolerated running, plus I took swim lesson as a kid. I would soon discover that that swimming for fun was tremendously different than swimming for speed.
When I saw a flyer for a little local Triathlon near my college I thought, “Why not?”
I was not going to be stopped because I did not fit what I thought of as the triathlon or endurance athlete “mold”. I was not even going to be stopped by the fact that all I had was a mountain bike that I used to get around campus.
If there is one true statement about triathlon, it's that there is no “mold”. Any body type and any person can do a race. No one needs the latest and greatest equipment or needs to quit their job to train. Ultimately, the only thing needed is the desire to do a triathlon, minimal equipment, and, yes, a bit of training.
The race was a week after finals, so I did not do any training beyond what I did for football. As a coach now, I would not recommend that! But even without specific preparation, I had fun. My goal was met, and I was happy.
Did I feel great? No. But I had one of the greatest feelings of my life during the bike: I passed a person on a real triathlon bike complete with race wheels. I thought that was incredible, and it was probably what got me hooked on triathlon.
The thing I did right going into my first race was having the belief that I could do a triathlon. Never discount what you are capable of and never assume something is impossible.
“You never know how steep a climb is until you put your nose on it”.
Doing my first triathlon at 312 lbs seemed steep, but I did it. No matter what your steep climb may look like to you now, you can do it too!