My Therapy: Finding Triathlon Later in Life

A social worker during the day and a triathlete on weekends. That’s how I perceive my life now, at age 52. 

It all started months ago. I had been cycling for a couple of years and progressively adding longer rides, including the MS150 that I completed last year for the first time. The sense of accomplishment with just cycling greatly embraced me. Until August 2016, when I went to see a friend do her first triathlon. My friend only trained for a month for her race. I was usually intimidated by the word TRIATHLON— and I considered it a sport for people stronger and younger than me. But my friend was actually two years older than me and she completed it. That was the spark that ignited the flame— I started to feel the desire to do the same. I needed a challenge greater than cycling longer distances.

That was a time in my life where I needed something to make me feel emotionally stronger. Grief—that’s what I deal with, everyday. As a Hospice Social Worker, I help my patients and families to cope with their sadness and emotional pain. I see tears and I hear words of emotional struggle as my patients face their own mortality and the families prepare for the loss of their loved ones. I was trained and prepared to do this job. But what I was not prepared for was becoming myself a grieving wife. My husband had been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Our lives changed in a blink of an eye. Last year, we had to make multiple changes in our living arrangements, finances, and routines. I became a caregiver. I started to realize that my husband was not going to get better. It was uncertain how much longer he had to live— a year, two years, three years. We still don’t know. 

At that point last year, cycling was my therapy. But when I was exposed to triathlon, I identified a new journey that could help me cope with the stress and sadness in my life. I needed to build resilience— to be strong for my husband, my family, and for myself. In August last year, I shared with my friends that I was going to train for a triathlon for 2017, the same triathlon my friend finished. It is a popular local event that takes place every year in the summer. I thought that by having a year of training, I should be prepared. It sounded exciting. The thought of completing a triathlon gave me a sudden feeling of empowerment. Yet, it made me nervous as well. There was a long way to go.

The first obstacle I found was that I didn’t know how to properly train. I reached out to a triathlete friend and asked for advice. I was a good cyclist, but not a swimmer or a runner. I’d never taken swim training in my life. I had run some 5Ks in the past, but I had stopped running for several years. I’d have to start from zero on those two sports. I joined a Master Swim program at the gym and the training was at five AM twice a week. I had to adjust my sleep routine and work schedule to be able to make it to the training sessions. I struggled with swimming. I hated it. After two trainings, I was absent for a month. Then I returned and it was like starting from scratch. I was not consistent, and I was failing. I did start running, little steps at the time. Running thirty seconds, walking two minutes and slowly increasing the intervals. 

In the winter last year, my gym offered a Triathlon Clinic for beginners. That was my opportunity to be accountable to my swim training. I signed up. It was an 8-week program. This was the beginning of a more consistent practice. The goals became way more defined now. I started to show improvement with my swimming. One day, I was able to swim without feeling that I was drowning. That day, for first time, I said, “I love swimming.” Our clinic closed with an indoor triathlon in March this year. I completed it and was even more excited to continue training and improving. I certainly was on the right path. 

With my running much improved, I decided to run my very first half marathon in April. Another accomplishment. In May, I finished my first triathlon— The Trizou. This was an event out of town. I was ecstatic. Now I am getting ready to complete my second triathlon in July— The Summer Roundup Tri. This coming August, when I plan to do the triathlon that initially inspired me to get into this journey, I will be counting it as my third triathlon this year. That day, I will remind myself that at age 52, I became a triathlete. And that I did it to find emotional and physical strength, in my time of grief. 



Written by Doris Plaster

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Did you discover triathlon at a time in your life when you needed it most? Share your story in the comments below! 

Doris' husband, Raymond passed away on July 17th. Our thoughts are with her and her family during this difficult time. 

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Congrats and good luck on your new journey. We are never to old to try something new. I did my first and second OWS tris in April and my first 70.3 in May at 59. I started swim lessons in November. With training, it is amazing to see what your body can do! I used the word never to a 70.3 distance and here I am considering an IM for my 6th birthday, 2018!

You are an inspiration. You not only survived but are thriving. My circle of friends and training partners has grown through multi sport racing. I think God led you to assist you in establaishing new friendships and activities to help you during this roough time in your life, a rebirth if you will.

I am sorry for your loss. I pray that God gives you the His gifts of Comfort and peace during this difficult times in your life.

Take care and have fun!

Angele Sanders

Dearest Doris,
You are a fabulous role model in many ways and you did prepare yourself as best as you possibly could. Building up endurance and coping with stress. It probably was the very best therapy that you needed. God puts us on a certain path for a reason…
Wishing you lots of success and further strength to go the road you have to go now without the love of your life.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder

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